Tag Archives: Leaders

Leadership in IT

In this brief article I will have a look at the types of leadership found in some major information technology companies and what impact it has had.

Transformational leadership and its impact on organisations has been studied in depth and has been found to be a key driver behind innovation with leaders of large IT companies such as Lou Gerstner of IBM cited as examples (Jung, Wu, & Chow, 2008, p. 582). The hands-on direct connection of leaders within IT companies, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft and Michael Dell of Dell Computers has resulted in employees in the 21st century wanting an immediate relationship with their leader before giving their full commitment to their work (George, 2004, p. 34). George has defined this as being an authentic leader, a leader who is able to build a trust-based relationship with people in their organisation. It’s suggested that this relationship with followers garners from them a “deeper commitment to their work and greater loyalty to the company” (George, 2004, p. 34). Hartley has described the leadership style of Microsoft’s incumbent CEO, Steve Ballmer, and Dell’s Michael Dell; which, as a result of their organisational strategies, fits in closely with the definition of transactional leaders (2006, p. 283). Michael Dell has further been described as one willing to “sacrifice his own interests for the good of the organisation” (Hartley, 2006, p.283) also puts him into the transformational category. These leaders have been described as able to separate their managerial ability from their technical knowledge so that they can allow their followers to effectively join in the leadership role as appropriate and participate. In doing this, these leaders have enabled their followers to take ownership of their roles and generate positive outcomes.

Photo by Greenbay
Photo by Greenbay

Utilising a completely different leadership style, Steven Jobs of Apple Computers prior to his removal and reinstatement at the company, has been described as a visionary and proselytizer (Westley & Mintzberg, 1989, p. 23) who pushed the design of computers to be light and trim so they would not scare the infant market. Steven Jobs is referred to as an evangelist for the future potential of his products with an uncompromising idea about what his company should be (p. 25). Westley & Mintzberg have shared the suggestion that this unwavering stance not only built the company but also led to his removal from it. This is a clear example of the organisational lifecycle that was described by Ogbonna and Harris (2000, p. 771) where the leadership style has influenced the organisational culture but when the lifecycle has reached the point where the culture has come back to influence the leadership style, it would not be redefined. This idealism and perfectionism contributed to the culture, but limited his leadership and caused low morale among employees (Westley & Mintzberg, 1989, p. 25). Ahmed suggests that the leadership failed prior to Steven Jobs removal from the company, as it was not focused on creating an environment that could innovate (1998, p. 42), in other words, it was not a transformational style of leadership. Rather it could be described as an outcome oriented directive leadership style that manifested negatively in this IT company.


Ahmed P. K. (1998). Culture and climate for innovation. European Journal of Innovation Management, 1(1), 30-43. doi: 10.1108/14601069810199131

George, B. (2004). The journey to authenticity. Leader to Leader, 2004(31), 29-35. Retrieved from http://www.leadertoleaderjournal.com/

Hartley N. T. (2006). Management history: An umbrella model. Journal of Management History 12(3), 278-292. doi: 10.1108/17511340610670188

Jung D., Wu A., & Chow C. W. (2008). Towards understanding the direct and indirect effects of CEOs’ transformational leadership on firm innovation. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(5), 582-594. Retrieved from http://www.journals.elsevier.com/the-leadership-quarterly/

Ogbonna, E., & Harris L. C. (2000). Leadership style, organizational culture and performance: empirical evidence from UK companies. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 11(4), 766-788. doi: 10.1080/09585190050075114

Westley F., & Mintzberg H. (1989). Visionary leadership and strategic management. Strategic Management Journal, 10(1), 17-32. Retrieved from http://smj.strategicmanagement.net/

Leadership Styles and their Impact on Organisations

Photo by kipcurry
Photo by kipcurry

Müller and Turner advise, “the project manager’s leadership style influences project success” (2007, p. 30) and in their study on the differences leadership can make to an organisational unit, Smith, Carson, and Alexander determined that “leadership definitely made a difference” (1984, p. 774). Similarly, Ogbonna and Harris have found that leadership is inextricably linked to organisational performance (2000, p. 765). With this in mind, it is important to understand the differences in leadership styles in order to recognise the different impacts that these styles can have on an organisation and the decision making process within an organisation.

Leadership styles are “relatively stable patterns of behavior displayed by leaders” (Eagly, 2003, p. 569). Prior to 1990, Eagly split leadership into two core styles (p. 570). One style is defined as “task-oriented”, concerned with “accomplishing assigned tasks by organizing task-relevant activities” (Eagly, 2003, p. 570), the other as “interpersonally oriented”, concerned with “maintaining interpersonal relationships by tending to others’ morale and welfare” (Eagly, 2003, p. 570). Bass and Bass described two other core leadership styles that were introduced prior to 1990 as transactional leadership and transformational leadership (2008, p. 50). The transactional leader exchanges one thing for something else in order to get the job done, the transformational leader however seeks to change the existing framework they are working in and subsequently satisfy higher needs (p. 41). “Transactional leadership encompassed contingent reward, management by exception and passive or laissez-faire” characteristics (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 50), comparatively “transformational leaders were said to motivate followers to go beyond their own self-interests for the good of the group, organisation or society” (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 50). Based on the definitions provided by Eagly (p. 569) and Bass and Bass (p. 50), similarities can be seen between the task-oriented and transactional leadership styles as well as between the interpersonally oriented and transformational styles.

In studies post 1990, it has been noted that male and female attributes defined by gender roles can affect the expected and actual tendencies of the leader (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001, p. 783). Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt have suggested that the two main leadership styles that gender roles cause a tendency towards can be represented as agentic and communal. The agentic characteristics are represented most in men and can generally be described as an “assertive, controlling, and confident tendency—for example, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, daring, self-confident, and competitive” (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001, p. 783). In contrast, the characteristics of the communal style are better represented in women and can generally be described as “a concern with the welfare of other people—for example, affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, interpersonally sensitive, nurturant, and gentle” (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001, p. 783). It is apparent comparing the pre-1990 styles defined by Eagly (2003, p. 569) and Bass and Bass (2008, p. 50) with these post-1990 gender role tendency affected styles that there are clear similarities showing a male more closely aligned to a transactional or task-oriented leadership style and a woman more closely aligned to a transformational or interpersonally oriented leadership style.

Further studies have since suggested that leadership can best be broken into four styles, directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42). Directive leadership involves characteristics such as instruction and command, assigned goals and contingent reprimand (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42). Research has extensively implied that directive leaders are the cause of both defective processes and of poor group decision-making thus resulting in poor outcomes for the organisation (Peterson, 1997, p. 1108). Directive leadership can however focus on outcomes or the process to varying degrees with research indicating that process based directive leadership is far more successful than outcome based directive leadership (Peterson, 1997, p. 1108). Transactional leadership involves contingent material rewards and contingent personal rewards (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42). Transformational leadership can be recognized by stimulation and inspiration, vision, idealism and challenging the status quo (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42) in the form of concentration on long-term goals; emphasis on a vision; working outside existing systems; and, encouraging followers to take on greater responsibility (Aragón-Correa, García-Morales, & Cordón-Pozo, 2007, pp. 349-350). Empowering leadership encourages thinking in terms of opportunities, self-reward, self-leadership, setting goals participatively and encouraging teamwork (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42).

Transformational leadership has been linked to innovation (Aragón-Correa, García-Morales, & Cordón-Pozo, 2007, p. 349), and it has been suggested that a leader may be both transactional and transformational (Lowe & Galen, 1996, Literature Review section, para. 2) but that a transformational leader is able to garner greater “work unit effectiveness” than a transactional leader (Lowe & Galen, 1996, Summary and Discussion section, para. 1). Other recent thought has put forward a leadership style referred to as “engaging leadership” (Alimo-Metcalfe, Alban-Metcalfe, Bradley, Mariathasan, & Samele, 2003, p. 587), which features characteristics of both transactional and transformational leadership similarly to Bass and Bass’ empowering leadership style described earlier. Engaging leadership offers the transaction of respect, joint vision, empowerment and encouragement under the guidance of “ethical principles and the desire to co-create and co-own ways of working with others towards achieving a shared vision” (Alimo-Metcalfe, Alban-Metcalfe, Bradley, Mariathasan, & Samele, 2003, p. 587) in return for integrity, transparency, strategic thinking, constructively critical thinking and proactive problem solving. Essentially a transferral of transformational leadership attributes between the leader and the followers in order to ensure the organisation can cope with change (p. 587).


Alimo-Metcalfe B., Alban-Metcalfe J., Bradley M., Mariathasan J., & Samele C. (2008) The impact of engaging leadership on performance, attitudes to work and wellbeing at work: A longitudinal study. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 22(6), 586-598. doi: 10.1108/14777260810916560

Aragón-Correa J. A., García-Morales V. J., & Cordón-Pozo E. (2007). Leadership and organizational learning’s role on innovation and performance: Lessons from Spain. Industrial Marketing Management, 36(3), 349-359. Retrieved from http://www.journals.elsevier.com/industrial-marketing-management/

Bass B. M., & Bass R. (2008).The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications. Retrieved from Google Books.

Eagly, A. H., & Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C. . (2001). The leadership styles of women and men. Journal of Social Issues, 57(4), 783. Retrieved from http://www.spssi.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewpage&pageid=950

Eagly, A. H. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological Bulletin, 129(4), 569-591. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/bul/

Lowe K. B., & Galen K. K. (1996). Effectiveness correlates of transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic review of the MLQ literature. The Leadership Quarterly, 7(3), 385. Retrieved from http://www.journals.elsevier.com/the-leadership-quarterly/

Müller R., & Turner J. R. (2007). Matching the project manager’s leadership style to project type. International Journal of Project Management, 25(1), 21-32. Retrieved from http://www.journals.elsevier.com/international-journal-of-project-management/

Smith J. E., Carson K. P., & Alexander R. A. (1984). Leadership: It can make a difference. The Academy of Management Journal, 27(4), 765-776. Retrieved from http://aom.org/AMJ/

Ogbonna, E., & Harris L. C. (2000). Leadership style, organizational culture and performance: empirical evidence from UK companies. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 11(4), 766-788. doi: 10.1080/09585190050075114

Peterson, R. S. (1997). A directive leadership style in group decision making can be both virtue and vice: Evidence from elite and experimental groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(5), 1107-1121. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/psp/

What Is The Fundamental Nature of Leadership?

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Photo by steved_np3

What is leadership? In this short article I will be assessing how the literature describes leadership and what the fundamental nature of leadership is.

Merton defined leadership as being a social exchange or transaction between those leading and those following (1969, pp. 2615-2616). Further, Barker (2001) discussed the view that leadership is an industry (p. 469) that revolves around a continuous social process (p. 472).  Determining what the nature of a good leader is within this social construct is a topic of debate (Barker, 2001, p. 470), however the general activities expected of leaders are to: adapt to change; be alert to environmental factors; be both present and future focused, represent the group or team to it’s environment; manage resources; express aspirations that resonate with the group or team; motivate the group or team; define the values and ideals of the group or team; arbitrate and mediate conflict; be the scapegoat (Merton, 1969, pp. 2616-2617). In 1994, Wills suggested that the primary role of a leader is to mobilize others toward a shared goal (p. 17).

In 2001 Hogg suggested that a leader could be the same as any other group member, except that they are involved in “actively influencing other people” (p. 189). Hogg explains this influence as something that a leader already has in an existing group or acquires in a new group because they are “socially attractive”. It is this social attractiveness that Hogg indicates is the reason a leader is able to “secure compliance with suggestions and recommendations he or she makes” (2001, p. 189). This is important as Hogg defines leadership as “a process of influence that enlists and mobilizes the involvement of others in the attainment of collective goals; it is not a coercive process in which power is exercised over others” (2001, p. 194).

Based on the deductions of the research since 1969 the fundamental nature of leadership could be considered as being a social hierarchy that develops both intentionally and unintentionally where two or more people group together. The person who best fits the prototype of a leader in a given situation will naturally become the leader intentionally or unintentionally in the majority of group situations as a result of their learned or natural social attractiveness. This prototype may be something as simple as being the most prototypical team member, or in other words, the member that best exemplifies the ideals of the group (Hogg, 2001, p. 189).


Barker, R. A. (2001). The nature of leadership. Human Relations, 54(4), 469-494. doi: 10.1177/0018726701544004

Hogg M. A. (2001). A social identity theory of leadership. Personality & Social Psychology Review (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), 5(3), 184-200. Retrieved from http://psr.sagepub.com/

Merton, R. K. (1969). The social nature of leadership. American Journal of Nursing, 69(12), 2614-2618. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/AJNOnline/pages/default.aspx

Wills, G. (1994). Certain trumpets: The call of leaders. New York: Simon & Schuster.