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10 Jul 2014

Leadership, The Secret (Pt 9): Problems Defining & Studying

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series Leadership - The Secret

3 Gold Stars - Leadership Secret

Across leadership studies, a consistent leadership definition or model is very often lacking.

Greger Wikstand, a Capgemini consultant (plus much more), and I exchanged Tweets on my post, “Leadership, The Secret (Pt 6): Scientifically Unproven.” He asked me to look at some science that apparently proved good leadership begets good results. After tweeting what I look for in these studies, he suggested I read the study more thoroughly and write about them.

The research Greger had me analyze was an excellent exercise for which I am grateful to him for suggesting. It’s a systematic analysis of current literature on leadership’s predictability of:

  1. Job well-being
  2. Risk of sick leaves
  3. Early retirement
  4. Job satisfaction
  5. Job performance

Interesting enough, after “109 articles were thoroughly analyzed” and “conclusions [were] based on 27 articles providing the best evidence,” (see Abstract, Objective pg. 904) the study concluded only a “moderate association” with the first three and “weak associations” with the last two (see Discussion pg 910). In other words, while leadership might be good for employee’s health, “the relationship between leadership and performance remains unclear.” (see Abstract, Conclusions pg. 904). So, in terms of my post, the only thing this research seems to prove is that good leadership begetting good results, especially performance, is still unproven.

Nevertheless, Greger wanted to know what I examine in these studies. One important aspect I mentioned is definitions. They form studies’ foundations. Varying the definition of a ball will change outcomes. Leadership works the same. This study provided no definitions of leadership, let alone definitions of good leadership, used by the analyzed studies. More astounding, 62 different leadership models were used to assess leadership (see Description of Studies pg. 907). This inconsistency dynamically influences hypotheses, methodology, results and conclusions.

Thus, reconnecting this study to this series on leadership’s secret, the conclusions (especially those regarding performance) and inconsistent assessment approaches confirm the subjective, arbitrary nature of leadership – it’s real secret. It makes defining and studying leadership in any consistent manner difficult, if not impossible, and is probably why this study concluded that “there is a relative lack of well-founded prospective studies” in this area (see Abstract, Conclusions pg. 904).


Referenced study: Leadership, Job Well-Being, and Health Effects – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis by Jaana Kuoppala, MD, PhD; Anne Lamminpää, MD, PhD; Juha Liira, MD, PhD; and Harri Vainio, MD, PhD (12 pgs.)


Series Navigation<< Leadership, The Secret (Pt 8): Top Rule ViolatorLeadership’s Secret Physical Characteristics >>

6 Responses

  1. Enjoyable read. This gives me lots to think about – especially on the subject of defining leadership. Are we considered leaders by leading our own actions alone or must their be someone else involved?

    I am going to share this with my followers on Twitter – and I think I am going to research the definition of leadership. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us 😀

    1. Mike Lehr

      You’re welcome, Arizona. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. I don’t know if you saw the entire series of this subject http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/series/leadership-the-secret/ but there might be additional information you can use. I also have one on the differences between leadership and management http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/series/leadership-vs-management-the-difference/ . You might some material there.

      Again, thank you for visiting.

      1. Thanks for the links Mike. I started reading the rest of your series – from the beginning as I should instead of the end.

        I guess I truly believe that leadership has to start with leading yourself. But how that fits in with a scientific definition … research. So glad I love it.

        Thank you again 😀

        1. Mike Lehr

          You’re welcome, Arizona. I’m pleased. It sounds as though it gave you something to ponder and to frame better what you believe. You’re a perfect example of why leadership is not conducive to a scientific definition. Thank you for the exchange. Enjoy your weekend. ~Mike

    2. Does leading yourself constitute a meaningful subcategory of leadership? Maybe. But consider this: Even if you aren’t in a formal leadership role, you have the chance to exercise leadership every time you interact with another person.

      1. Mike Lehr

        From a professional perspective, leading yourself does not constitute a meaningful subcategory of leadership. Nonetheless, from a self-help perspective it can be initially helpful and certainly lucrative to market such a view. Professionally, it’s called being an individual, and the act of “leading oneself” is individuation, asserting one’s own identity, desires and goals in the world. Short-term, visualizing it as “leading oneself” can be helpful to jump start a path to individuation but it’s harmful longer term as it encourages bifurcation of ones self-view (since leadership is at its root a social concept) rather than reconciling it. Again, I encourage exploring individuation. It’s not as marketable but it’s an accurate description of “leading oneself.”

        Your other point is certainly true. One of the posts in my Leadership vs. Management series deals with this specifically (http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/?p=1545). You don’t need to be in a formal leadership role to exercise leadership. In fact, such a distinction is over 2500 years as its first documentation occurred in Chinese writings. More problematical though is that the distinction you mention is very often a source of tension between managers with lesser leadership skills and non-manager employees with better leadership skills.

        Thank you for the questions and visit, Greger.

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