Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Leadership Style and Organizational Commitment

Level of commitment to an organization structure may be the difference between thriving and faltering corporations.  Understanding the mechanisms behind employee dedication is an urgent matter for any leader.  This review is a compilation of 15 peer-reviewed research articles observing the correlation between leadership style and commitment.  An emphasis was placed on discerning whether consideration leadership style (a construct of transformational leadership) related significantly with affective organizational commitment.  The research provides strong evidence in support of consideration leadership style and its connection to employee involvement.

Leadership Style and Organizational Commitment
People face the choices of commitment every day.  Some commitment is semi-subconscious, like deciding which brand of cereal to buy or what to watch at 8 o’clock.  Yet other decisions like who to marry, where to live, and where to work are very deliberate processes.  Deciding to commit to an organization is, next to marriage, one of the toughest assessments people make.  Beyond that, deciding whether to merely fulfill obligations at work or supersede narrow job definitions may be the difference between faltering and thriving organizations (Moss, 2006).  Companies and leadership should take note that success depends largely on whether employees are affectively committed.  Namely, are employees highly dedicated, involved and loyal?  It is hypothesized that leaders who adhere to consideration leadership styles will foster high levels of affective organizational commitment.  The following literature review attempts to demonstrate and support this hypothesis.
            Within the United States Army’s core doctrine, leadership is identified as the most essential factor in whether the U.S. wins or loses (Kane & Tremble, 2000).  Since Bass’s studies in the 1980’s describing transactional[1] and transformational leadership styles, the military has tried to decode the link between leadership styles and levels of motivation.  Transformational leadership has become the primary focus of recent research.  Understanding its link to the consideration style of management is important.
Consideration Leadership
            Lewin, Lippitt, and White (1939) conducted the original studies involving leadership styles and productivity.  Comparing and contrasting democratic, authoritarian, and laissez-faire approaches, their conclusions pointed to a positive correlation between democratic leadership techniques and productivity.  Building on these findings in the 1960’s, the University of Michigan and Ohio State University further defined managers as either product-oriented or employee-oriented leaders.  However, rather than place product-oriented and employee-oriented variables on different scales, the Ohio State University sought to combine the styles.
            Leaders were now measured on both scales simultaneously, forming a graph with four quadrants.  Leaders focusing on task orientation could still pay attention to subordinate’s feelings and attitudes.  These new dimensions were renamed initiation of structure and consideration.  Bozeman (1979) described initiation of structure as the leader’s behavior in delineating the relationship between himself and members of the work group and in endeavoring to establish well-defined patterns of organization, channels of command, and methods of procedure.
            To compliment initiation of structure in the Ohio State University studies, leaders were also rated on consideration or “any action which the leader takes to perceive the human needs of his subordinates and to support the subordinates in their own attempts to satisfy their needs” (Hampton et al., 1982, p. 569).  While consideration leadership style was originally measured independently, in modern leadership studies it is measured as a component of transformational leadership.
            In its original definition, transformational leadership was reported as one who must develop and communicate a new vision and get others not only to see the vision but also to commit to it (Tichy and Ulrich, 1984).  While at the core, the definition has remained the same, two major changes have occurred.  Transformational leadership has moved away from its “great man” focus and more recently adopted a strong consideration component.  Note the last part of Kane and Tremble’s (2000) description of a transformational leader:
Transformational behaviors promote the following subordinate outcomes: admiration, respect, and trust of the leader; motivation and commitment to shared goals and visions; innovative and creative approaches; and growth reflecting the unique needs and desires of individual followers. (­p. 137-138)
Another strong example of transformational leadership’s move towards consideration style is evidenced in Walumbwa and Lawler’s 2003 article in the International Journal of Human Resource Management.  Within the five transformational constructs (charismatic leadership, individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, contingent reward, and management-by-exception) is the condition that connects directly with previous definitions of consideration: individualized consideration.  This variable of transformational leadership is concerned with developing followers by coaching and mentoring (Bass, 1985; Bass and Avolio, 1990; Dubinsky et al., 1995).
A leader displaying individualized consideration pays special attention to each individual’s abilities, aspirations and needs to enhance followers’ confidence in responding to problems facing them and their organizations (Avolio, 1999). By providing mentoring and one-to-one communication, such leaders are able to build a sense of determination and self-confidence in their followers (Bass, 1998; Dubinsky et al., 1995).  So, while the original definition of transformational leadership borders closely with trait theories of leadership[2] (Ott, Parkes and Simpson, 2008), it would appear that later definitions synthesize consideration approaches into their models. 
Organizational Commitment
As a dependent variable of leadership, organizational commitment has received as much scrutiny as transformational leadership and is the focus of studies aimed at determining its levers.  This makes sense because empirical studies describing the mechanisms of dedication are invaluable.  Managers actively seeking to cultivate supportive atmospheres can use these studies to modify their behavior (Crawford, Lok, and Westwood, 2005) and subsequently satisfy employee needs. 
Definitions and constructs of organizational commitment remain varied.  At its simplest, Allen and Meyer (1996) suggest that organizational commitment may be thought of as the psychological tie between the organization and the employee, which increases the chance that the employee will remain with the organization and contribute above-average effort to the organization.  Allen and Meyer (1990) have also studied commitment as a multi-dimensional variable comprised of three components: affective, continuous, and normative commitment.  Affective commitment is the employee’s emotional attachment and identification with the organization.  Continuance commitment is defined as dedication based on the costs of leaving the organization while the normative component is best described as the employee’s obligatory feelings to stay in his or her current situation (Crawford & Lok, 2001).  This literature review will focus primarily on affective commitment and its correlation with supportive leadership styles.
In all but two studies reviewed, researchers utilized blends of transformational and consideration styles.  Correlations between organizational commitment and transformational leadership were measured both as holistic variables (the convergence of the constructs) and by separate components.  Thus, it was quite simple to focus directly on the correlation between individualized consideration style and affective organizational commitment. 

Strong Support
In 1995 the Journal of Applied Psychology published a research article by Allen, Bycio, and Hackett deeply examining the core constructs of transformational leadership.  The research team deconstructed the multifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ) and its correlations between transformational leadership’s prediction of satisfaction, intent to leave and organizational commitment.  Their findings showed that as an independent variable individualized consideration correlated strongly (.90) as a predictor of organizational commitment.  Because of this they suggested that the five separate constructs of transformational leadership (charismatic leadership, individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, contingent reward, and management-by-exception) should be measured separately.  Subsequent leadership research was built on the notion of differentiated modules.
In the July 2001 issue of the Journal of Managerial Psychology, researchers Peter Lok and John Crawford examined the antecedents of organizational commitment and job satisfaction in hospitals in Sydney, Australia.  Their sample included 251 nurses employed in seven large hospitals.  Along with survey questions about ward culture and job satisfaction, Lok and Crawford looked at the nurses’ perceptions of their manager’s leadership style and postulated its link to level of commitment.  Using the attitudinal definition of commitment (Steers, 1977), which overlaps with affective commitment, they hypothesized that a consideration leadership style would have a more positive effect on commitment than an initiating structure leadership style.
            The nurses responded to both Stodgill’s (1974) Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ) and Mowday et al’s (1979) Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ).  Lok and Crawford point out, despite the LBDQ’s age, it is popular and reliable.  The OCQ is also a well-established scale.  In the end, their results supported the hypothesis of this investigation as well as their own.
            One interesting addition the researchers found was that an “innovative ward culture had the strongest positive effects on commitment” (Crawford & Lok, 2001, p. 608).  Both consideration leadership style and innovative ward culture were statistically significant (p < 0.05) when correlated with commitment.  However, consideration ranked at 0.25 while innovative showed at 0.34. It will take further studies to determine a link between leadership styles and culture styles, yet it may be that supportive leadership styles foster innovative cultures, thus leading to even more dedication.
Building on their excellent research from 2001, Crawford, Lok, and Westwood (2005) examined the link between leadership style and organizational commitment again.  The focus of the investigation was on 258 nurses within the Sydney, Australia metropolitan area using a survey aimed at hospital wards rather than hospitals in general.  Two of their nine hypotheses focused directly on leadership style and commitment, with 3a claiming “there will be a significant relationship between perceived leadership style and commitment” and 3b stating “a perceived consideration leadership style will be perceived to be more positively correlated with commitment than a perceived initiating structure leadership style” (p. 499).  More specifically, the researchers were trying to figure out whether leader behavior had a direct impact on nurses’ daily lives within the ward and if this perception led to greater individual commitment towards the hospital.  To properly measure leadership style and commitment the researchers utilized two well-known surveys: Stodgill’s (1974) LBDQ was sent again along with Mowday et al’s (1979) Organizational Commitment Survey (OCS).
The results in this study supported the hypothesis that leaders who adhere to consideration leadership styles will foster high levels of affective organizational commitment.  Both hypotheses, 3a and 3b, were found to be statistically significant.  Confirming that leadership style was a relevant antecedent of commitment, Crawford, Lok, and Westwood went on to suggest that to genuinely change an organization for the better, leaders must attend to their mode of leadership. 
It should be noted that the studies by Lok and Crawford (2001) and Crawford, Lok, and Westwood (2005) were cross-sectional studies, not longitudinal, thus the results were merely a snapshot.  But, combining the two does show that consideration leadership style has a significant impact on dedication.  Also, the fact that these studies focused on nurses and ward culture in hospitals means the results may not be transferable to other professions.
To remedy this, Peter Lok and John Crawford teamed up again in 2004 and took their hypotheses out of the hospital wards and into the Australian and Hong Kong business worlds.  Sampling 219 managers from Hong Kong and 118 from Australia, the researchers examined the effects of a consideration leadership style on organizational commitment and job satisfaction. 
Unlike their previous study, Crawford and Lok were trying figure out if Eastern management styles were significantly different from Western styles.  The thought was that employee perception of consideration leadership styles would correlate negatively in Hong Kong and positively in Australia, citing cultural differences.  Surprisingly, the hypothesis stating that consideration style would correlate negatively among Hong Kong subordinates was rejected.  In both cases, supportive leadership was sought after for higher levels of employee satisfaction and commitment.
Adding to the urgency that management should monitor their leadership style, whether Western or Eastern, was Walumbwa and Lawler’s (2003) research aimed at building effective organizations.  They examined 213 employees from China, 206 from India, and 158 in Kenya totaling 577.  All personnel were from the banking and financial sectors.  Once again the MLQ survey was utilized and measurements were based on a 5-point Likert scale with subordinates directed to rate their management and organization.
Primarily concerned with the moderating effect of collectivism in regards to transformational leadership, the findings pointed once again to a strong, positive correlation between leadership style and organizational commitment.  The researchers even postulated that transformational behaviors accentuate collectivist attitudes and direct worker energy into even more collective achievement.  As in previous studies, their definition of transformational leadership included the individualized consideration component.
Walumbwa and Lawler showed that transformational, and particularly supportive leadership styles, worked across cultural boundaries.  Within the future and practical implications section of their study they even suggest that organizations would certainly grow by providing transformational leadership programs for management (p. 1097).
            This research could certainly be generalized to a larger audience since the data was collected in natural settings and because the participants were truly cross-cultural.  However, Walumbwa and Lawler did not measure actual behaviors.  Instead they rated behavioral intentions, which correlate with actual behaviors, but are not true behaviors.
            Other studies that strongly support this literature review’s hypothesis are Bommer, MacKenzie, and Podsakoff’s 1996 work on determinants of employee satisfaction, commitment, trust, and organizational citizenship behaviors along with Jean Lee’s 2005 study on the effects of leadership and leader-member exchange on commitment.  Both articles employed the affective definition of commitment as well as the consideration component of transformational leadership.
            Bommer et al. collected data from 1539 employees across a variety of different industries.  The most notable piece of their results was that as a whole entity, transformational leadership did not provide strong evidence for its effects on subordinates.  However, taken as separate variables, the researchers reveal, “one transformational leader behavior (individualized support) appears to be a particularly important determinant of employee attitudes, role perceptions and behaviors” (p. 290).  Of the five transformational modules measured, consideration style was the most significant.
Lee’s article suggested similar findings while exploring the leader-member exchange (LMX) and its relationship with commitment.  It is important to note that LMX is analogous to consideration leadership style.  It involves the inter-personal communications between leaders and followers classified by high levels of trust, interaction, and support. 
Similar to Lawler and Walumbwa, Lee’s sample consisted of business school graduates in Beijing, China.  Using simple random sampling of the graduates’ e-mails the research team contacted participants and then awaited survey responses.  Altogether, 220 surveys out of 400 returned.  Like previous studies the researchers used the multifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ) to measure leadership along with Meyer and Allen’s instrument for multidimensional organizational commitment.
Lee found that transformational leadership correlated positively with affective commitment at 0.601 and a significance of < 0.000.  In contrast to Bommer, Mackenzie, and Podsakoff the research pointed out that transformational leadership as a whole did have a significant effect on organizational commitment. 
Despite strong findings in each of these articles, caution in their strength must be considered.  Owing to the cross-sectional designs, the data collected does not allow for an assessment of the direction of causality.  Findings should therefore be considered exploratory until data replication of these studies in a longitudinal design is captured.   When compared and contrasted as a semi-meta analysis however, the combined research sheds light on the hypothesis’ truth.
Moderate Support
            The aforementioned articles strongly supported the hypothesis that leaders who adhere to consideration leadership styles will foster high levels of affective organizational commitment.  The next three articles still provide core evidence, but less intentionally.
In early 2007, Walumbwa teamed with another researcher, Peng Wang to discuss the effects of transformational leadership on family-friendly programs, organizational commitment, and work withdrawal.  Using transformational leadership as a moderator between flexibility-related family-friendly programs and organizational commitment they surveyed 475 employees from 45 different banking institutions.  Like their previous study participants were from China (186) and Kenya (110), but the third sample came from Thailand (179), not India.
As a moderator, transformational leadership proved significant.  It directed a positive relationship between family friendly programs and organizational commitment. Wang and Walumbwa discovered that offering family-friendly benefits on their own was not sufficient enough to affect work attitudes and behaviors.  Leadership in general was still the key to employee satisfaction, while transformational leadership and particularly individual consideration sparked dedication in the sample population.
In an article focused on military leadership, Masi and Cooke (2000) tried to decipher a relationship between transformational leaders and organizational productivity in Army companies.  Organizational productivity was measured as the amount of recruiting activity.  Those companies with commanders and recruiters exhibiting transformational leadership values were hypothesized to recruit more new troops than leaders and recruiters using transactional styles. 
The respondents were surveyed using Bass and Avolio’s (1992) Form 5X MLQ in a stratified random sample of 42 battalions that included 2596 Regular Army personnel.  The findings weakly supported the hypothesis on productivity’s relation to transformational leadership, but interestingly the data showed a strong negative correlation between transactional styles and productivity.  Thus, it may be true that the “wrong” style of leadership is more influential than the “right” style.
Rather than implementing transformational leadership programs for managers and/or leadership, Masi and Cooke believed that removing poor leadership activities would show more immediate improvements in recruiting efforts for the Army.  However, transformational programs that include consideration models were thought to be worthwhile in long term planning.
Other Views
In all the reviewed articles thus far an argument has endorsed the strength of transformational leadership, with an emphasis on consideration.  The research suggests this is probably the right choice for a modern leader.  Moss, Ritossa, and Ngu (2006) support this thesis, but suggest a move towards situational leadership.  Their study of 263 pairs of managers and subordinates found that supportive leadership should be reserved for subordinates exhibiting a promotion regulatory focus versus a prevention regulatory focus
The researchers described promotion-oriented employees as having goals related to advancement, accomplishment, and aspirations.  On the other hand prevention-oriented focus manifested in job protection, safety, and responsibility.
When employees rated highly on promotion Moss et al. suggested that leaders use consideration style.  If an organization showed strong signs of prevention focus, initiation of structure style was hypothesized as a more effective mode for management.  Just like Masi and Cooke’s (2000) Army survey, Moss et al. found that corrective-avoidant (transactional) leadership had a stronger effect on subordinates than transformational styles. They also discovered something interesting:
…the positive association between transformational leadership and commitment was unrelated to regulatory focus. That is, transformational leaders fostered commitment even in employees who demonstrated a prevention focus. Conceivably, employees who habitually adopt a prevention focus might instead experience a promotion focus when their manager exhibits transformational leadership. (p. 104)
This showed that transformational leadership was indeed a powerful tool.  It was better for a manager to focus on building relationships with employees rather than remaining detached and uninvolved. 
This notion was also supported in McCann, Lanford, and Rawlings (2006) research article but they suggested focusing specifically on affective commitment versus continuance and/or normative.  Their validity test of Behling and McFillen’s (1996) Syncretical Model of Charismatic Transformational Leadership revealed an insignificant relationship between continuance and normative commitment when testing the independent components of transformational leadership.
There is no doubt that leadership is complicated and situational, with no direct proven system of success (Goeffe and Jones, 2000).  Despite this, there is strong statistical support that certain ways of “being” will promote productivity, creativity, and strong commitment among employees.  Daniel Goleman (1999) postulates that empathy, a foundation of consideration, is one of the more powerful pieces of a leader’s talents.  Empathy is not word used in many business practices, especially at the top where tough decisions are made with seemingly less emotion. 
            As the business world flattens and globalization marches forward (Friedman, 2005), the ability to empathize and use consideration will become ever more valuable.  To avoid, or at the very least, minimize cross-cultural faux pas or worse, it will take the emotional intelligence of a dedicated and considerate leader.  People who are empathetic are in tune with their surroundings and can more readily avoid misunderstandings.
In an entirely new view, researcher Ed Weymes (2002) suggested that leadership should be completely rethought.  He claimed that outdated language, rooted in military metaphors, was guiding management off course.  His answer to the question of what makes organizations effective was straightforward: relationships.  In Relationships, Not Leadership, Sustain Successful Organizations Weymes completely disregards transformational or transactional styles and goes straight to the heart of why organizations and leaders exist. 
            Organizations are no more than a group of people who come together for a specific purpose (p. 320).  While most outlooks on leadership are synonymous with high-ranking officers in the company, in actuality leadership is a process that ordinary people utilize to bring out the best from themselves and others (Kouzes & Posner, 2000).  This moves away from the model of ‘leaders and followers’ to a more horizontal organization where leaders are inspirational staff.
Weymes tried to show that humans are emotional creatures who desire social interaction more than meeting deadlines.  His prescriptive response for the peak-performing organization was based on the research surrounding emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence lies within social awareness and people demonstrating appropriate social skills at the right times. 
            This research strays away from transformational leadership, but still stays on par with the idea that consideration style is a useful construct.  Consideration, empathy, emotional intelligence and social awareness all connect at a level beyond productivity.  Each harkens back to the fact that humans are intelligent, yet social animals.  In Lee’s (2005) study she even suggests that “in the determination of organizational commitment, the importance of building high-quality relationships should not be neglected” (p. 669).   While we can live without organizations, some of the best pieces of our world revolve around communal productivity.  It is essential that leadership continued to be studied, but perhaps Weymes is correct, who leadership belongs to ought to be reexamined.

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[1] Transactional leadership is defined as an exchange-based influence whereby followers exchange effort for rewards from their leaders (Bass, 1985).
[2] The trait theories assume that leaders possess traits that are fundamentally different from the traits of followers (Ott, Parkes and Simpson, 2008, p. 33).