Incredible Interpretive Leaders


Mary Swenson

The current thinking in academic circles is that leadership is defined in various forms as an inter-relational process between leader and follower. In general, a leader defines and communicates an organizational situation to followers and directs, and maintains the collective activity (Lawson & Shen, 1998, p. 151). There are literally hundred of definitions of leadership. Pfeffer (1977) and Stewart (1982) also points out that leadership is a system of relationships with constraints and opportunities.

The focus of this article will review the current literature available on leadership and provide a new definition and leadership style. Typically, leaders focus on one or more of a combination of definitional elements of either traits, behaviors, interactions, process, influence, perceptions and environmental culture (Bass, 1990; Hogan & Curphy, 1994; Pfeffer, 1977; Stogdill, 1974). The definition of leadership is an important component to any investigation on the subject and directs the type of model generated from the research findings.

In most cases one can not lead unless they have some type of power, which makes it a necessary condition for leadership--but not a sufficient condition (Lawson, & Shen, 1998). According to Graen, 1976, Leaders establish mature relationships with their followers or their respective influence base, which constitutes liberating role-definition, mutual trust, respect and the internalization of specific and shared goals. Some definitions of leadership include Graen (1990) who considers leadership a role-making process that has its focus on leader-member exchanges.

Jacobs and Jaques, (1990), is a process of giving purpose or meaningful direction to a collective effort. Earlier definitions relate to interpersonal influence as exercised in the situation and directed through communication according to Tannenbaum, Weschler, & Massirk, (1961).  Katz & Kahn, 1978, discuss the influential increment over and above rote compliance with the routine directives. Rauch & Behleng, (1984) proposed that the leadership process of influencing others are activities that move an organized group toward goal achievement (Lawson & Shen, 1998).

This paper would propose that leadership is a personal philosophy whose function is an integrative process by which interactional relationships occur, allowing the transcendence of situations and circumstances, providing opportunities where none existed before. This type of leader encompasses the fundamental taxonomy of leadership behavior in that these individuals are relational, task or goal oriented, and address and fulfill situational circumstances (Yukl, 1998) as a collective group. 

This type of leader is born with inherent abilities but also acquires the skills and abilities necessary to provide self-leadership, and ultimately leads others by example vicariously and directly by virtue of their personal behavior. Their intent is not to lead but to accomplish a task or goal, and consequently their competencies occur in a context or under a particular set of circumstances. At the highest level of this leadership style these individuals deliberately develop over time from their experiences as they utilize and enhance their innate predispositions and develop their unique talents.

Therefore, the highest order of leader is one that comprises the charismatic leader identified by Burns, (1978) who also incorporates the abilities identified by Bass (1985). This leader is a combination of these styles and is born, made and developed. They not only influence and compel others, they are extraordinary managers and take what is good and maintain it--as well as enacting change if necessary. They are transcendental in nature and utilize the abilities of others as a collective to achieve their aims. Generally their objectives are a higher order, meaning that they are social and culturally oriented and typically altruistic in function. This definition and type of leader corresponds to a set of characteristics that comprise the functional groups found in the literature under the thematic headings of relational, organizational and inspirational comprised of variables paramount to quality leadership.

This definition denotes an integrative approach and finds support in the work of Chemers, (2000) who states that integration is based on the key functions performed by effective leaders indicative of a commonality of leadership theory and empirical support that is coherent and interpretive. According to Chemers leadership is defined as a social influence process where an individual is able to enlist others to accomplish a task. This definition is the closest approximation of the one proposed here with a critical difference. His approach originates and propagates from a social psychology perspective while this approach involves the three sectors of psychology, education and business.

Certain traits as variables or clusters thereof have not been validated by researchers with an acceptable amount predictability throughout all situations. Stogdill (1948) after 30 years of research in trait theory concluded that although individual differences were important in identifying emergent or effective leaders situational diversity made it unlikely that any one trait or group would be a universal predictor (Chemers, 2000). However there are a cluster of traits identified by a revisiting of the original approach used by researchers which has identified a constellation of abilities termed communication, management and motivation which comprise several skills that correspond to term definitions that comprise those groupings.

By revisiting the trait approach, an additional nuance with the behavior and style approach can be discerned resulting in a new takeaway that increases predictability and offers a new legitimacy to cognitive and behavioral approaches. Three variables were proposed in the contingency model by Fiedlers seminal works, (1955) by utilizing the feedback from subordinates or followers in order to more closely define an approach based on the interaction of leadership traits with situational parameters. Fiedler, combined three variables into a dimension of “situational favorability” which were comprised of 1) support and cooperation of followers 2) clarity and structure of task 3) the leader’s formal authority to direct and reward constituents. These conditions or variables were thought to provide situational control offering certain predictability and control over group processes (Fiedler, Chemers, & Maher, 1976).

The foundational works of Vroom and Yetton, (1973) were energized by the potential of this approach to explain performance. They worked from a more deductive theoretical base offering a decision-making effectiveness that integrated strategy with situational factors yielding a decision tree as the culmination of the normative approach. Leaders in this model encompass three styles respectively autocratic, consultative and participatory. Empirical research on the model is not extensive but supportive of its basic premises (Field &  House, 1990, as cited Yukl, 2002). The path-goal theory argues that a leaders primary purpose to motivate others to see how their performance can help them achieve personal goals.  That theory and its extension offered by Kerr & Jermier (1978) indicate very little support for predictability (Chemers, 2000).

Cognitive models and gender concerns have shifted investigative focus upon perceptions and attributions. The work of Jones & Nisbett, 1971; Ross, 1978, identified the fundamental attribution error by which performance is biased due to cultural and social role and norms impacting perceptions and cognitions regarding leadership attribution. For example, Eagly and her associates (1990) conducted a meta-analysis on male-female differences and found that women tend to emerge as leaders as often as men and tend to be evaluated similarly to men when all other variables are equal. Chemers summarizes the existent literature on gender differences by saying that persistent stereotypes impede equal access and fair evaluation for women indicative of a rich untapped potential of data with regard to leadership characteristics by which this paradigm is proposed.

House (1977) also describes a cluster of theoretical analysis which included personal characteristics, behaviors and situational influences that in his work with Shamir (1993) takes path-goal theory and theories of intrinsic motivation and self-concept making a case for the collective goals transformational leaders are able to bring out in others. Efficacy has been defined as the marrying of traits and situations to obtain a certain “fit” which measures outcomes on not only the independent variable (traits) but the dependent variable (outcomes) and more types of studies need to be performed across different cultures evidencing varying value systems and multi-national groups.

Chemers offers three functions which contrast with the ones posed here which are that leaders must wear the hat, and be credible, that they must develop relationships with others and deploy their resources as they see fit.  He pairs those functions with personal skills encompassing confidence, coping abilities and collective objectives. In summary he proposes that leadership is dynamic interchange between informational process and decision making. The proposed shared model here is contrasted by three main objectives mainly--problem solving, decision-making and conflict resolution. 

Power and politics are for all general purposes secondary to the empowerment of the individual, group, and organized collective. According to Winum, (2003) Psychology can offer their leverage of human behavior as a scientific field, their assessment methodologies, expertise in change, and training in measuring results, and ethical conduct implied in the professional code. In this approach there are no differences between leaders and managers rather, the requisite organizational skills are but a third of the winning combination required for mega or hybrid leaders to emerge. The third and final component is of course the teacher who acts as a role model that guides and directs in order to educate others.

Copyright © 2004 Interpretive Leadership, Inc., Patent Pending. All Rights Reserved.

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