Does the Vocational Setting Affect the Perceived Effectiveness of Leaders?

[We’re pleased to welcome G. Ronald Gilbert of Florida International University. Dr. Gilbert collaborated with Robert C. Myrtle and Ravipreet S. Sohi on their article “Relational Behavior of Leaders: A Comparison by Vocational Context,” which was recently published in Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies.]

In organizational behavior, no topic has been studied more than leadership and what constitutes leadership effectiveness. What makes a JLOS_72ppiRGB_powerpointleader effective in the eyes of those led? And does context matter? That is, are the same ”effective” leadership characteristics important to employees working in manufacturing, medical labs, social service, military, law enforcement, sales, hospitals, construction, waste disposal and the like? Or are the attributes of leadership effectiveness dependent on the organization’s setting?

The organizational context (setting) can be defined in many ways; i.e., geographic, size, technology, demographic, culture, industry, or the like. In this study, we identified psychological contexts of two different work settings. In manufacturing, studies have demonstrated that those who work there tend to be Realistic types per Holland’s person-vocational fit theory, while in social service settings they tend to be Social in orientation. These two types are polar opposites in the Holland hexagon. Thus, by comparing the relative effectiveness of relational leadership behaviors in both contexts, we sought to test for differences in ratings, and the relationships of the same leadership dimensions with perceived overall leader effectiveness.

Leaders who demonstrate authentic behavior have been recognized to be most effective on the job. In our study we used an empirically developed 360 degree Leadership Effectiveness Assessment that has embedded within it five dimensions of relational transparency. We went beyond the more commonly studied vertical relationship between leaders and those led to measuring the effectiveness of leaders as perceived by subordinates, peers, and top managers.

Bottom Line Results: Leaders who work in social service settings tend to be rated higher on four of five relational leadership dimensions than those who work in manufacturing. We then tested to see if scores on each of the five dimensions predicted overall leadership effectiveness in each setting. Those who lead with a calming manner and demonstrate organizational loyalty and followership are likely to predict overall leadership effectiveness in social settings more than in manufacturing. We find one size of leadership does not fit all work settings; style does make a difference. It depends on where one works and the psychological person-vocational fit of those being led.

Practical Implications: For those who use the same leadership assessments to help gauge the effectiveness of leaders across contexts, similar scores on such assessments may not indicate the leaders’ relative effectiveness.

“Relational Behavior of Leaders: A Comparison by Vocational Context” from Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies can be read for free by clicking here. Want to know when all the latest research from Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies becomes available? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

gilbertG. Ronald Gilbert is a retired Associate Professor and current Lecturer in the Department of Management and International Business at Florida International University, Miami, Florida. He is a founder and Principal Consultant of GILBERTEMS LLC, a management consulting firm, Port St. Lucie, FL ( where he is actively engaged in leadership and organizational performance analysis and development. His current research is focused on leadership and organizational performance behavior as measured by research instruments he has developed.

myrtleRobert C. Myrtle is Professor Emeritus, Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. His key research interests are leadership in high stress, high risk environments, strategic decision making, and organizational and management effectiveness. His current projects include leadership of public and non-profit organizations during and following major natural disasters; leadership in cross-national, cross sector contexts; leadership dynamics in high risk surgical settings; and the analysis of the effects of job change on career growth and progression.

sohiRavipreet S. Sohi is Professor of Marketing & Steinhart Foundation Distinguished Professor of Business, and Executive Director of the Center for Sales Excellence at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska. He is widely published in Marketing and Management journals. His specialization is in Sales and Sales Management research and education.

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