Organizations invest heavily in management selection and training programs, in an effort to recruit and further develop leaders with traditional, “bright” character traits — those who are dominant, outgoing, achievement oriented and cooperative.
But a new study from the University of Notre Dame suggests companies are missing the boat if they don’t delve a little deeper to evaluate how the leaders they seek and train might complement existing teams.
In some cases, stereotypical or traditional leadership traits may not be the best fit.
In a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Jasmine Hu, assistant professor and Donnelly Fellow in Participatory Management in the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, along with her colleague Timothy Judge, argue that “bright” leadership traits don’t always contribute positively to team performance and that leaders need to be selected to fit the values of their teams.
Hu says the research findings are counterintuitive for many recruiters and trainers focused on traditional leadership skills, which can prove counterproductive.
“I think most organizations tend to heavily emphasize certain leader characteristics, largely ignoring contextual factors that can drive the success and failures of those same leaders,” Hu says. “What we found is that when highly extroverted leaders work with teams whose members expect dominant leaders, the group is effective. However, when extroverted leaders work with teams whose members crave power sharing and expect involvement in decision making, they are less effective in leading successful teams.
“Similarly, conscientious or achievement-oriented leaders tend to have strictly organized plans and be reluctant to share their decision power with their teams, and thus will be incompatible with teams that desire ownership of their work. We also found that more cooperative leaders are ideally suited for teams with power sharing expectations, but prove to be a mismatch for teams desiring a dominant leader.”
Think embattled Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
“Mayer has acted in a very aggressive and dominant way, including banning employees from telecommuting and negotiating a number of ill-advised acquisitions,” Hu says. “She does not seem to listen well to the feedback from her top management team and employees. Her leadership style would appear to be somewhat incompatible with what Yahoo needs.”
Successful leaders, Hu says, understand the importance of listening and sharing power. As Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler Corp., once said, “I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”
Or as Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, says, “The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say. It’s terribly important for everyone to get involved. Our best ideas come from clerks and stockboys.”
Hu’s research offers meaningful suggestions for practice — for both managers and companies.
“Companies should examine their existing teams and adapt leader recruiting and training processes accordingly,” she says. “And, team managers can make better decisions and build more effective teams by adjusting their behaviors to complement their teams’ preferences. When extroverted or achievement-oriented leaders work with teams that expect empowerment, they can make an extra effort to listen to and involve those members in the decision making process. Similarly, the more cooperative and caring leaders of teams that like a dominant leader should take steps to avoid being viewed as weak or ineffectual.”
The paper, “Leader-Team Complementarity: Exploring the Interactive Effects of Leader Personality Traits and Team Power Distance Values on Team Processes and Performance,” is available here.
Contact: Jasmine Hu, 574-631-9791, firstname.lastname@example.org