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leadership, authority and power



 leadership is indefinable in any precise or comprehensive manner. it is a complex mixture of qualities and cuts across almost all modern disciplines such as philosophy (goals and their morality), political science (sources of authority and uses of power), sociology and psychology (influence and motivation), etc.  broadly defined, however, leadership (or leading) is equivalent to management (or managing); i.e. getting one's goals accomplished through other people.

by contrast with people who do technical work (dig earth, lay bricks, research in libraries, teach children, fight in wars, etc.), leaders (managers) are unique in that they don't actually do such work but, to achieve their goals, plan and "motivate" others to do it for them. whether the leader is a dictator like the nazi hitler wanting enemy troops killed or a ranch owner wanting cows herded for market, the essential definition of their leadership is that they do not themselves do it but rather plan and motivate others to do the killing or herding. for example, gm's ceo does not himself make millions of cars but plans and motivates the work of 600,000 gm employees to achieve his goals. roman emperors wanted roads and viaducts throughout the roman empire but "motivated" others to do the actual work of building them. whether the circumstances are a nation and world-shaking or a small corporation or family, getting work and goals accomplished through others is the essence of leadership and managing.

power and "motivation"

why did men slave from dawn till dark till early death with little or no pay building egyptian pyramids or roman roads? they were "motivated" by the power of kings and other dictators. although today's academic psychologists define motivation in complex and technical terms, we will here use the term in its most basic meaning:

motivating people is getting them to do what you want them to do, i.e. getting their cooperation (whether they like it or not). historically, the typical way to motivate people has been the use of power.

 power, by definition, is simply the ability to make and implement one's decisions, to impose one's will on others. throughout history, raw power motivated most people: a man did what a king ordered or was quickly imprisoned or executed (powerful motivation); the fastest gun in a pioneer american western town had the power to get anyone to do anything he ordered or die by gunshot; an employer or landowner had power to fire men from jobs at will - and thus rule a family's income or slow starvation; lawyers and judges use the courts' power to bankrupt individuals or corporations by court order. power is, therefore, one form of leadership, a basic, raw and primitive one - but effective in most human situations throughout history.

note that power is an "amoral" phenomenon and has nothing to do with morality, ethics or justice. power is just power, exercised for good or evil.   hitler imposed his power effectively, by means of armies, for immoral atrocities while george washington used his power to create a free, democratic america. power is just raw strength, physical, financial or other, like darwinian survival of the fittest in the jungles and the animal kingdom. physical force is the most basic and primitive form of power, the strong man or gun with absolute power over anyone weaker and "fight" or "flight" the rule of survival. but, today, in modern organizations power is exercised in more subtle varieties: money, position, status, technical knowledge, political strength, love or promotions and the withholding of them, laws, courts, banks, regulatory agencies of the government such as the irs, sec or fda. for example, in today's high-technology economy, it is often the "knowledge" people with the power of knowledge, scientists or engineers with critical expertise, who rule decisions as ignorant and powerless executives merely follow the experts' lead.     leadership by raw, usually dictatorial, power has worked throughout history but has severe limitations in most modern work environments (as we shall see). a most common source of power today, in modern organizations, is positional authority (people with titles such as president, ceo, vp, division director, branch manager, etc.), which is where the concepts of power and authority intertwine - authority as a major source of effective power.

authority: its nature and sources

 authority, by definition, is one's right to rule and command, perceived and accepted by subordinates as legitimate. such legitimacy is the essential attribute of human authority. in ancient times and throughout the middle ages, authority was vested in kings by birthright, the legitimate heir of a dead king coroneted as the rightful new king of the land. in modern democracies, presidents of nations are awarded ultimate authority, and therefore power, by majority vote of the nations' citizens, this their acceptance of the legitimacy of his authority; a ceo or president of a corporation is awarded authority and decision power by vote of the corporation's stockholders.

but, even so, authority, like raw power, is still per se "amoral." however, totally dependent upon citizen or voters' support for his power, a legitimatized authority figure must typically honor the moral or religious views of the majority of citizens voting him into office. thus, authority generally tends to be used morally and ethically or else the authority figure becomes ousted from office and powerless.

this concept of authority is based on the "acceptance theory of authority^' developed by chester bernard (and others) in the 1950s and clearly establishes the distinction between raw power and legitimate authority. thus legitimate authority is based on subordinates' voluntary "acceptance" of a leader by acclamation, majority vote or his rightful authority position in an organizational system (such as president or division manager, promotions to such positions earned by the organization's fair and due-process procedures).

political examples highlight the distinction between power and authority, although the definitions and principles involved are equally valid in all other organizations such as armies and corporations. for example, a dictator gains control of a south american nation amid enthusiastic acclaim by the masses, all accepting him as a savior and solution to intolerable economic troubles. thus far, the dictator has both power (especially the army) and authority. months later, his promises to the people ignored, they rise up in opposition to him, reject his "authority," but backed by army might, he continues to enforce his power over the people. he now rules by raw power despite loss of legitimate authority. typically, too, in a short time, he is overthrown by rebellion, often bloody, and a new leader, with new legitimatized authority replaces him.

 power, without authority, is a risky and usually short-term form of leadership. (similarly, as we shall see, authority, without influence, is usually ineffective.)

authority in free democracies

in free democracies, despite their inefficiencies of eternal talk, debating and voting, power is systematically dependent upon legitimate authority (securing majority vote and acceptance of the people). seldom, and only for brief periods, can a leader in a free democracy continue to hold effective power without legitimatized authority. leaders in a free democracy, formally elected by the people into positions of power such as president or congressmen, maintain power only with the legitimate authority conferred on them by peoples' acceptance (without it, they are voted out of office and stripped of power). in free democracies with due process, authority itself becomes the main source of power, not physical or other raw force. after america's declaration of independence, rejecting the power and authority of england, the new constitution dealt with little else besides the issues of power based firmly on legitimate authority, and precise rational processes for its stability and proper use.

a giant and world-frightening 1990s' example of the distinction is the soviet union where the hardened centralized authority of 70 years (based in communist faith) is being rejected by the peoples of the 15 "sovereign" republics as they demand nationalistic autonomy. the u.s.s.r. might continue to wield central power with its kgb, armies and weapons arsenal (for a while) but is fast losing all legitimate authority. such conflict between power and authority is usually a sure historical path to civil war as in the american 1860s.

leadership by influence

in today's free and open environments, whether political or corporate (along with powerful media pressures), even legitimate authority becomes a weak source of power in specific day-to�day situations.

for example, a corporate v.p. for research & development has won his position and its authority but that becomes only a general authority, not necessarily effective in many specific and critical situations. the intrinsic weakness of his pro-forma authority, often mainly bureaucratic and "on-paper-only," falls into two categories:

(a) "line" authority and (b) "staff" authority.

the r&d vp's "line" authority is his positional "power" to command immediate subordinates, engineers and technicians, to do projects as commanded. but, without influence and motivation, line subordinates may just "go through the motions" without energy and creativity generated by an inspiring and influential leader.

the vp's authority along "staff' lines, i.e. with his peers and his own boss is nil. he has no direct authority and his only "power" is personal influence.

thus influence, by definition, is the art of personal persuasion - salesmanship. it relies little (or not at all) on raw power or authority - even when such are available by virtue of organizational position or other forms of power. these become almost irrelevant to really achieving desired goals by inspiring others to really want to do what's necessary to get them done. influence is the ability to reach, touch and motivate others by powerful personal appeals to their minds and hearts, deep loyalties, ambitions, ethical convictions, emotional moods, exciting projects, career advancement, personal pride and reputation. force, power and authority titles are abandoned as primitive and counter-productive. personal persuasion is used instead to "sell," rather than force, others to cooperate with one's opinions or decisions (with or without formal authority).

for example, a highly influential r&d vp, with stimulating personality and charisma, can inspire his engineers to intense effort and energetic creativity when mere positional authority would achieve only minimum compliance, unmotivated and mediocre effort - or even a rebellious "no-work" strike or mass resignations. most of today's real work gets done by effective influence, not primitive power or titular authority. personnel managers (and other "staff' managers) enjoy little or no "line" authority, wield no "power" and survive by their ability to influence peers and top management. lobbyists, lawyers, legislative "staffers," pr and advertising executives in washington and state capitals live (or die) by their ability to influence, lacking most raw forms of power and authority. james baker, secretary of state, along with president bush, had no "authority" over the u.n. (united nations) but, by intense and effective influence (marathon flights and appeals to international leaders), achieved in fall 1990 a remarkable international coalition of nations against iraq's invasion of kuwait.

in most modern american organizations, mere power and even legitimate authority are no longer sufficient for the dynamic leadership required of today's managers in increasingly competitive environments. the essence of effective leadership today is neither power nor authority, but rather the ability to influence others to cooperate enthusiastically with one's own goals and decisions - which is the definition of leadership.

the past century of intense research into the nature and sources of leadership has revealed many successful approaches to leadership; notably "trait" theory, "behavior" theory, the most effective "styles" of leadership and the now almost universally accepted "contingency" theory of leadership. the need and value of effective influence, rather than mere power or authority, permeate all of these recent theories and successful practices of leadership.

the "trait" theory of leadership

three major theories of leadership have emerged in the past century of research: "trait" theory, "behavior" theory, and "contingency" theory.

nature or nurture (or both)

the first theorists to research leadership (about 1900" started with the intuitive and common-sense hypothesis that overt human behavior follows inner traits, that effective leadership behavior is based on a leader's inner traits, deeply ingrained personality and other characteristics such as intelligence, aggressiveness or physical appearance.  ("traits," as defined by these theorists, included both inherited characteristics as well as acquired traits such as attitudes, self-confidence, ethical integrity, etc.) the research method seemed simple and sure: just compare the traits of well-known successful leaders and thus identify a finite set of "traits" generally common to them all.

the failure of trait theory

hundreds of such research studies were done in the early 1900s seeking a consensus. but none was found! many studies would find certain traits common in all successful leaders examined in the studies (such as intelligence or energy level) while other studies revealed equally successful leaders lacking these same traits. finally, after decades of such research, most theorists, deeply disappointed at the research results, were forced to acknowledge that a single, universal set of leadership traits did not exist. some successful leaders had one set of traits while other equally successful leaders had an entirely different set of traits. initially searching for a single, universal set of leadership traits, common and essential to all leadership effectiveness (apart from time or circumstances), the researchers now had to recognize that another factor had to be included: i.e. the particular situation or contingencies surrounding a leader at given times and circumstances. leaders in one situation (such as managing highly motivated engineers) might be successful with a trait of trust and light control of subordinates while these same traits failed in a different situation (such as the conditions facing a prison warden or budget director).

classifying "styles" of leadership

the new mid-century researchers sought more observable, measurable aspects of effective leadership rather than the metaphysical "qualities" of earlier trait theory.  thus the thrust of behavior theorists ignored inner traits (what leaders are) and focused upon the actual behavior of leaders, what they did, how they operated. behavior theory's main form of research became typology, classifying leader behaviors into convenient "types" or "styles." as early as the 1920s when trait theory research was dominant, a dozen researchers identified behavior "types" such as the four defined by bogardus or the following five most frequently defined:

autocratic style (authoritative, power-oriented)

persuasive style (explains, sells, inspires)

democratic style (consults, invites group participation)

intellectual style (the expert, leads by superior knowledge)

executive style (administrator, activist, systems).

the "one best" leadership style

just as trait theorists searched for traits universally associated with effective leaders, so behavior theorists sought for a one best leadership style.

prior to the much later acceptance of the necessity of the situation factor ("contingency theory"), mid-century behavior research consisted mainly of studies trying to link one (or more) specific leader styles with leader effectiveness. their ideal or "holy grail" was to find the one best leadership style. hundreds of gigantic studies emerged, many consuming a researcher's entire career, all experimenting with different style classifications (the "concept" stage) and then the usual massive surveys to link styles with leader effectiveness 'empirical" stage). like all science, it was slow, patient and frustrating work, much of it "methodical failures" (rejecting series of false hypotheses as typical in the physical sciences) before advancing a short step toward final factual truth (often never achieved as in the ongoing search for a common cold cure). space here permits summarizing only a few of the major such studies.

another influential project advancing behavior theory was the work of rensis likert's group at the university of michigan. likert's two major works in the 1960s provide full details about the institute's work.   summarizing it here, likert fine-tuned by degrees the measurement of leadership styles using scales (such as his now common "l-to-9" scale); and also used four new style definitions instead of the lbdq's two. he called them "systems of management 1, 2, 3 & 4," as follows:

(1) authoritative exploitive

(2) authoritative benevolent

(3) consultative

(4) participative.

 likert was convinced that future research would prove that his system 4 (the participative leader) was the one best leadership style. his influence was so great that in the 1960s, 1970s and even later, huge segments of the management training industry built massive training programs urging system 4 upon all managers.

the "participative" manager was "in," the "autocratic, authoritative" manager was "out."

despite clear cautions by likert himself about past research voided by the possible situation factors ("contingency"), enthusiastic management trainers over-simplified system 4 as the new magic solution to painfully poor leadership in their organizations, "sold" the concept to top management and got the funds to teach and promote it.

this "one best leadership style" dominated many training departments and entire organizations for decades.

but what's being measured, morale or productivity?

for some years, critics (including this author ) warned that the researchers were measuring the wrong thing; i.e., leader effectiveness was being defined merely as worker morale and satisfaction, or even "happiness," on the job as opposed to the bottom-line and ultimate goal of leadership: productivity in both quantity and quality. some extreme proponents of worker contentment were dubbed the "happiness crowd" in the personnel and training departments ("a happy worker is a good worker").

needless to say, most task-oriented line managers, scanning such "soft" speculation but themselves measured on hard bottom-line results, ignored it. their interest was in productivity, only secondarily people's happiness or satisfaction in the work place ("a happy worker is often just happy, not productive"). they joked about the new "contented cow" theory of management (and still do in the 1990s as japanese work-ethic mindsets and productivity overwhelm americans', take their jobs and dominate the u.s. economy).


the "final seven" leadership styles

in the late 1960s, most behavior theorists had finally settled on seven major, identifiable and clearly distinct styles of leadership.

the semantics or "naming" of the styles varied somewhat among the terms we've noted above ("structure," "directive," etc.), but in substance the following became the standard classification of leadership styles:

autocratic tough (motivate by threat and fear)

autocratic benevolent (paternalistic, gets loyalty)

bureaucratic (rigid policies, rules, s.o.p.)

diplomatic (explain, "sell," inspire)

consultative (participative but i make the decisions)

democratic (participative and group makes decisions)

free rein (gives subordinates full freedom)


strict definitions of the seven leadership styles

despite the unavoidable semantics (words  like "autocratic" conjuring up knee-jerk pejorative implications), behavior theorists now carefully isolated the seven terms for the seven styles objectively, restricting them to strict definitions without evaluating any yet as either "good" or "bad." the definitions are as follows:

(1)    the "tough autocrat" knows exactly what he wants subordinates to do, tells them to do it "or else," rewards very little but punishes all violators or incompetents quickly and severely. he gets results by fear. the recent political analogy would be saddam hussein's absolute control by terror of all iraqis ("do what i tell you or die"). in american organizations, it would be "do what i tell you or get fired from your job." in either case, the principle is the same: the leader orders and subordinates obey - quickly. he is intolerant of questions or suggestions and his communication is one-way (down).

(2)    the "benevolent autocrat" is essentially the autocrat above (although often not apparent) in issuing orders one-way and insisting on complete obedience. but he motivates by the "carrot" rather than the "stick." he is usually paternalistic, a "father" figure for his subordinates whom he often loves and cares for as children.  but it is still a "daddy knows best" environment. he is often friendly, loving and considerate; and gains cooperation by positive incentives such as praise, money handouts,  protection,  security,  approval  and  personal dependence upon him. he expects, in return, complete loyalty obedience and personal devotion. if this fails, he reverts quickly to a tough autocrat, punishing an offender severely while still praising the "good children" who continue their unwavering obedience and loyalty to him.

(3)    the "bureaucrat" leads and lives strictly by the rules of his organization and superiors, no questions asked (either by him or his subordinates). just obey the rules! he typifies the ideal manager of the classical max weber bureaucratic model of organizations widely installed in government agencies and corporations during the early 20th century and still common today.    such organizations, typically huge, impersonal and with many levels or "bureaus" of hierarchy, systematically develop logical policies, procedures and rules for every part of operations - and enforce them with no deviations. the need and value of bureaucracy ("rule by law rather than man and mere human whim"), as in america's slow but necessary "due process of law," lie in predictable orderliness of all operations as well as equitable treatment of all employees and clients of the organization.   (bureaucracies' defects are inflexibility, low motivation and "red-tape" delay of decisions which americans experience almost daily in dealing with any government agency or large corporation.)

(4)    the "diplomat" should better be termed the "salesman" or "persuader." he leads by persuasion, salesmanship, negotiation, influence and highly personal motivation of people. even if a line manager with powerful positional authority, he prefers to lead as a diplomat, not an authority figure or tyrant. obviously, and importantly, staff managers, having little or no line authority, must become and live as expert "diplomats" to survive and achieve any of their goals.

(5)    the "consultative" leader is & genuine participative leader (unlike autocrats who often only appear so - but aren't}. he sincerely encourages and listens to, is influenced by, full two-way communication, suggestions, thorough discussion and debate of his department's goals, problems and any decisions to be made. but, after all discussion, he reserves the final decisions to himself. this form of leadership is common in america's white house where the president solicits the best advice from all expert sources but, at end, makes the final decisions himself.

(6)    the "democratic" leader is literally so in the political meaning of the term: he presents problems to his group, encourages full discussion and debate, then allows his group to decide by consensus (hopefully) or majority vote (if group differences can not be resolved into a consensus or compromise).   he accepts his personal limitations that, especially in high-technology issues (engineering, marketing techniques, personnel and legal implications, etc.), the collective information and wisdom of his group far exceed his own as an individual. so does the consultative leader but, after listening to all discussion and advice, he (not any "majority") makes the final decision.

(7)    the "free rein" leader, like a rider confident in his horse, lets go the reins, allows his people freedom to "ride their own paths" and find their own ways to his goals. there is still some autocracy in that the leader himself sets the department goals and parameters such as budget limits etc. but he encourages varying, often enormous, degrees of subordinates' freedom to "find the ways" on their own to achieve the leader's goals. this leadership style, increasingly inevitable in complex environments, relies on huge trust in subordinates' sure capability to perform and their personal integrity (let's recall "dependability" as part of "trait" theory).

evaluating the seven leadership styles

 the seven behavior styles of leadership have been strictly defined above with as little evaluation of them as possible (except for unavoidable semantic tones in "naming them, which should be ignored). let's now evaluate these styles based on leaders' typical experience and actual results in using them on the job. as will become obvious, the situation factor ("contingency theory") is already implied in many of the evaluations in the list. listed below is a brief summary of the main advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses of the seven styles:

 autocratic leadership


can increase efficiency -"tighten up" operations.

bulletvaluable time saved by commands and no discussion.
bulletquick results, especially in emergency situations.
bulletchain of command and division of work (who is supposed to do what) are clear, understood by all.

works well with people who have a low tolerance for ambiguity, feel insecure with freedom and even minor decisions and need full direction.


bulletthe efficiency of one-way communication (orders) is often only apparent as, without feedback, many orders are misunderstood and miss their goal.
bulletan autocrat must be an expert on every job under his control since he receives little or no advice or information from his people.
bulletpeople usually resent an autocratic leader and his authoritarian rule, feel excluded and unimport�ant like machine parts, and often express their feelings by subconscious or quire intentional re�sistance, unenthusiastic "minimum compliance" with orders, low morale and productivity, and sometimes even sabotage, work slowdowns or stoppage and strikes.
bulletpoor or no development of people's potential talent.


bureaucratic leadership



insures consistency of policy and operations, which can be critical in organizations where errors or deviations from standard procedures are intolera�ble (such as banking, employee or consumer safety, legal firms or departments etc.)


fairness and impartiality in dealing with people.


chain of command and division of work clear to all.


bulletinflexibility and inefficiency in handling new, complex or changing situations.
bulletvirtual paralysis and indecision in situations not covered by specific rules and policies.
bulletstifles people's creativity, enthusiasm and morale.


diplomatic leadership


bulletpeople are more cooperative and motivated when given reasons and explanations for work they do.
bulletpeople can ask questions and this two-way communi�cation reduces errors through misunderstanding.
bulletpeople feel respected and important when a boss takes time to explain and discuss; morale is good.
bulletthis style of leadership is indispensable for any of the many "staff" managers who get their work done through others over whom they have no direct authority or control.


bulletsome people interpret efforts to persuade them as a sign of weakness or indecision in a manager.
bulletunless the "salesman" (diplomatic manager) is very skilled and convincing, people may sense a "con" job, insincere flattery or that they are being mere�ly manipulated and treated hypocritically.
bulletanyone who tries to "sell" another person invites "objections to the sale," which often are hard to answer or can't be answered convincingly; and the other person might not "buy" the sales pitch, in which case the manager must "revert" to auto�cratic and just order what he wants done - which people resent as both autocratic and hypocrisy.

participative leadership


bulletwhen people have a genuine voice and part in the making of a decision, they tend to view it as their own, support it and try hard to make it work.
bulletwide-open, two-way communication and the free-of people to voice their ideas, information and knowledge of specific aspects of jobs, especially highly technical ones, provide a leader valuable ideas and advice, an optimum "information base" for his decisions -the vital factor in today's com�plex and fast-changing organizations.
bulletwhen people have a genuine share in decisions and thereby share in the burden and responsibility for decisions, they tend usually to:

(a)    feel important, respected and recognized as valuable (a deep ego satisfaction)/and

(b)   develop rapidly their full potential of effort, talent, accomplishment and value.

bulletmost people work harder, more efficiently, more enthusiastically and at a high level of motivation when they are given genuine responsibility, free�dom to act and contribute to their work and goals. people's deep personal satisfaction in a participa�tive climate results in maximum human contribu�tion to the accomplishment of organizational goals.


bulletpeople participation in decisions can consume great amounts of time (in meetings, discussions/waiting for the views of all, telephone calls, etc.) causing inefficiency, delay or inability to decide and act within critical time limits (especially in emergen�cy situations).
bulletsome managers use (abuse) the participative style, especially the democratic form of it, to shirk the responsibility of decision making, avoiding or "abdicating" it by shifting it to groups (committees being the most common ploy in this game of safe-and indecisive- survival).
bulletthe consultative style invites people to urge their views, sometimes quite emotionally, and often many strongly divergent views or "fact ions "emerge -the leader must finally decide on one of them and those whose recommendations were rejected may resent it and even fight or sabotage the decision.
bulletthis style, unless carefully handled, can lead to collapse of managerial control by the manager who is ultimately and solely accountable for results.


free rein leadership



this style, when it works, enables a manager to handle the maximum number of projects, delegated almost completely to others and thus using up very little of his own managerial time -but he is always ultimately accountable for each project.


man/workers, especially highly educated, technical and professional ones (doctors, engineers, etc.) thrive and can contribute their best work only if granted wide freedom and responsibility.

bulleta free rein leader can handle a larger span of con�trol (more people directly reporting to him) than is possible with any other leadership style, the very maximum utilization of people and resources and "multiplication" or "extension" of himself as a manager of many people, projects and results.


bulletby the very nature of free rein leadership, little or no control is exercised over subordinates and thus the risk of errors, even catastrophic ones, is greater than with any other leadership style; un�less the leader knows for sure that his people are completely competent and dependable, and in�deed it turns out that they are, his delegations of responsibility for projects and great freedom can end with deadlines missed or reached but with a series of disasters regarding specifications of pro�jects, budget overruns, safety or legal violations etc.; in short, a leadership style with enormous potential for vast quantities of work produced by a single manager -but with enormous risk as well.
bulletthe free rein leader can easily misjudge people and delegate to them projects and give them freedom which are beyond their technical capacity and/or personal confidence -thus creating failure exper�iences or high states of anxiety which damage re�sults and especially morale.

contingency theory as inevitable

 both trait and behavior theorists had struggled for over a half-century to "universalize" the essence of leadership, to isolate the one set of traits or the one best style common to effective leaders, independently of any leader's circumstances or situation. the sought-after ideal was to capture the very core of leadership, what constituted its essential nature in all times, places and situations. after decades of frustration, trait researchers had begun to concede the impossibility of such a search and the necessity of variations based on the leader's situation. thus were the beginnings of "contingency theory" of leadership (see above). now, the later behavior theorists had encountered the same stone wall and were forced to abandon their search for any "one best leadership style." it just did not exist!

it was clear now that the specific situation in which a leader operated determined which leader traits or styles might be effective. as mightily as two generations of researchers had sought for this "holy grail," unlocking the secret of leadership as a single human trait or type, it was not to be found. the phenomenon of effective leadership was far too complex to explain in any single, simple terms.

a multi-dimensional approach became inevitable and systematic research into "contingency theory" began.

  the path-goal (contingency) leadership theory

further confirmation and refinements of contingency theory rapidly mounted. a most influential version was the "path-goal" theory developed by the rj.house group, using a classification of four leader styles instead of fiedler's two. the/our styles were:

bullet instrumental (same as "task-oriented" autocrat).
bullet supportive (same as "employee-oriented").
bullet participative (consultation with subordinates).
bullet achiever (team-builder, sets high goals).

the path-goal hypothesis was that particular leadership styles, in combination with particular situations, constituted the best path (means) toward the goals of employee job satisfaction, this itself a means to high productivity and leadership effectiveness. finally, in most contingency theory research, the "right thing" was being measured: ultimate bottom-line productivity on the job, not merely employee satisfaction or contentment in the work place. the latter were relevant only if contributing to the ultimate goal of productivity (as they indeed often do).

here are examples of typical findings in this and other contingency theory research: (a) high- and self-motivated workers tend to resent and produce poorly under autocratic leaders but perform well with participative or free rein leaders; (b) insecure, poorly educated or routine-job employees perform best with supportive and autocratic leaders (such as: "here's exactly what i need you to do today, charlie, and if you have any problems just check with me and i'll give you all the help you need.").

"expectancy theory" and theories "x" & "y" (& "z")

two other major variations of the "contingency" approach emerged in the 1960s and are still influential in today's understanding and practice of leadership.

the work of victor vroom on employee motivation and motivation theory, termed "expectancy theory," closely but independently paralleled the house path-goal leadership model and soon became entrenched in most schools of business and corporation training departments during the 1970s. using macro-economic decision models for corporation decision-making, he translated these into the language of individual psychology (how individuals make their decisions). he found that workers will strive toward management's goals (productivity and profit) provided that their own expectations for personal goals were also satisfied (pay, interesting work assignments, sense of importance, recognition, pride, security, etc.)

 douglas mcgregor, with academic credentials equaling his top management corporate career, advocated a motivation approach based on a leader's assumptions about his workers. dubbed, for brevity, theory "x" and theory "y," an "x" leader being mainly autocratic and a "y" consultative and a team-builder, the effectiveness of each was contingent on the kinds of situations and workers each leader managed. "x" and "y' types being obviously polarized to the extremes of the schmidt-tannenbaum leadership continuum, the theory "z" leader surfaced as the most likely success, somewhere between the "x" and "v extremes, contingent upon the specific situation. mcgregor's theories "x," "y' and "z" are still popular language in business schools and management ranks, again confirming the inevitable triumph of the "contingency theory" of leadership.

  the "tool-box" approach to leadership

slowly, among academic researchers and practical executives, the "contingency theory" mindset had finally become dominant in the 1970s. acceptance of contingency theory was still reluctant with its multiple variables and a leader's own judgment in specific situations as necessary for effective leadership. it was frustrating never to have found the dream of a single universal style or trait explaining leadership. but most now acknowledged the reality instead of the century-long dream.  contingency theory had prevailed, not by choice, but by the demands of each unique situation, each determining which leader styles or traits would (or would not) be effective.

needed: "contingency" training of leaders

decades of academic researchers had first tested inner "traits" and then later behavior "styles" in search of a universally effective leader. now it was clear that the effectiveness of both a leader's inner traits and behavior styles was contingent upon a host of situational variables.

for management practitioners and in practical terms, there was still no simplistic "formula" management trainers sought and could teach in short courses to produce effective leaders, such needed by the millions. for half a century, since the practical need for world war i and ii field leaders as well as supervisors on the nation's corporate production lines, leadership trainers had pressured researchers for a simple, sure leadership "formula" as a solution to the disasters and deaths created by poor leadership. because of the urgent need for here-and-now leadership training in particular decades (wwl, wwii, the depression, etc.), trainers grasped desperately at any (then-current "theory" and taught it in management classrooms. like fanatic cults, training departments became obsessed, at varying times, with "participative" leadership or autocratic-"mbo" (management by objectives) or any other current "winner" in the leadership research arenas, with child-like trust that each in turn was the magic "formula" for effective leadership. none was. such a "holy grail" was never to be found.

although many such training "cultists" still abound in corporate training departments, university programs and consultants' program ads promising quick solutions, their number is (fortunately) diminishing. in the late 1970s and 1980s, the training of leaders slowly evolved from cult-like "formula" courses to reality-oriented courses instilling the difficult "contingency" mindset, leadership understanding, flexibility and keen judgment in specific situations. this is done, as in law schools, mainly by rigorous analysis of case situations, not the lecturing of abstract generalities or simple "formulas."

today's knowledgeable, responsible and ethical trainers shun all subtly-disguised and slick "formula" cults. they patiently teach "contingency" theory.

"traits" and "styles" in a "tool-box"

with no universal leadership "traits" or "styles" as simple "formulas" for effective leadership, leaders must be trained to use their own judgment in every specific situation. leaders must learn to handle their traits and styles as if "tools" in a tool-box, selecting the correct tool for any given situation, just as one chooses a screwdriver to drive a screw, never a hammer. it is a disastrous choice of the wrong tool to assign (or accept) a supervisory job where the leader's traits or natural style do not fit the specific situation. for example, a natural trait of trust might work well with highly reliable engineers but fail utterly with prison inmates or combat soldiers. similarly, a supervisor must shift his style often each day, ranging across the leadership continuum (see above) as the situation demands. he might at one moment be a helpful and paternalistic autocrat with a new trainee needing firm but gentle guidance, then moments later fully free rein with an experienced and reliable veteran who needs only a clearly stated goal with no further supervision.

this practical approach to leadership training is, of course, "contingency theory" in action but often code-worded the "tool-box approach" or "tool-box leadership."

this new form of leadership training typically consists of two parts:

(1) lecturing and/or book handouts (such as this book) to provide students with a full understanding of trait theory and the classifications of behavior styles, as his options or "tools" (never as cult-like single solutions);

(2) analysis of typical and specific on-the-job cases to build a leader's skill and judgment in using daily the right tool at the right time in the right situation.