The Secret to Effective Leadership: Keep it Simple.

by Keith Francoeur

As Vice President, he is responsible for training and managing PCI’s global assessment team, designing and updating the Talent Success Prediction™ process (including the research and selection of the test battery and interview format), and handling custom competency mapping.

In 1945, researchers at Ohio State University embarked on a 10-year program that would revolutionize our understanding of leadership.  The fruit of their labor was the identification of two independent domains of leadership behavior, which were later termed Consideration and Structure. 

Consideration

Consideration is the extent to which a leader treats their direct reports as their equals and displays active concern for their needs by doing things like involving them in decisions, implementing their suggestions, accommodating their requests, and supporting them with any problems they are having.  This dimension is also now commonly referred to as people-orientation.

Structure

Structure reflects the extent to which a leader emphasizes the importance of accomplishing organizational goals and challenges direct reports to be productive by doing things like clearly defining their responsibilities, stressing the importance of meeting deadlines and getting a lot done, and giving people constructive feedback when they are not meeting expectations.  This dimension is now also commonly referred to as task-orientation.

The Evolution of Leadership Models – What’s old is new again.

The Ohio State Model of leadership would dominate the field of leadership research for the next twenty plus years and was found to be related to many important outcomes, including follower satisfaction and turnover.  However, like all good things, the time of Consideration and Structure in the spotlight eventually came to an end in the mid-70s.  Among other things, the two domains of leadership were thought to be too simplistic to have much value in explaining something as complex as leadership, especially at higher levels.  Thus, the field eventually moved on to more sophisticated models of leadership, which culminated in the theory of transformational leadership.  Much like the Ohio State Model before it, transformational leadership would come to dominate leadership research, starting in the 1980s.

However, the Ohio State Model has seen a resurgence in interest over the past 17 years.  More recent research, which has leveraged powerful statistical techniques not available when the model fell out of favor, has consistently shown that Consideration and Structure are important predictors of overall leadership effectiveness and other important outcomes¹˒²˒³˒˒˒.  Even more impressive, and proof that sometimes keeping it simple is better, head-to-head research has shown that Consideration outperforms transformational leadership⁴. The same has been found for Structure, at least as it relates to some criteria².

6 Things to Know about Effective Leadership

  1. Consideration is more important than Structure.  If you want to be an effective leader, you should strive to be high on Consideration, and there is probably no such thing as displaying too much of this crucial leadership behavior⁴. 
  2. The picture with Structure is more nuanced.  It is helpful up to a point (especially if it is not present in the form of clear job descriptions, policies, and procedures), but in some cases it can have a detrimental effect once the threshold of sufficiency is exceeded.    
  3. Consideration and Structure are only modestly related to personality⁷.  This is important because personality is stable and doesn’t change much after age 30.  You can, however, focus on changing the leadership behaviors that you display at work. 
  4. Less can be more.  If you currently display high structuring behavior, you may find that less leads to more in terms of your overall effectiveness.  Just keep in mind that the two domains are (mostly) independent, so simply doing less structuring behavior won’t lead you to be perceived as more considerate; you will actually need to display those crucial leadership behaviors. 
  5. Not everyone needs to be a Transformational Leader.  Rather than trying to be a charismatic and inspirational leader who transforms the way things are done, many leaders would be better served by making sure they get the simple things right (like being considerate and providing structure).
  6. Your best bet.  In terms of emphasis, a style of high Consideration accompanied by moderate Structure is probably a safe bet for most leaders.  Do this simple thing and you will help to maximize your chances of being an effective leader, regardless of whether you are an entry level supervisor or an executive. 

Practical Implications

  • Self-reported leadership style adds value beyond personality measures in predicting leader effectiveness. Using a psychometrically sound toola to gather this critical piece of data will help you to hire great leaders and identify those in your organization who would benefit from development. 
  • When evaluating current leaders, use a 360-dgree feedback tool to gather the perceptions of Direct Reports.  This tool should give them a chance to evaluate how often their leader engages in specific behaviors related to the Consideration and Structure aspects of leadership.
  • Evaluate your Leadership Development program to ensure that it is grounded in sound theory and has modules covering both Consideration and Structure. Consider conducting a pre- and post-training assessment of leadership style from both the leader’s perspective (self-report) and direct reports’ perspective.

a While Consideration and Structure fell so much out of favor with researchers that it prompted some of them to question whether these domains had become the “forgotten ones¹”, PCI never forgot.  The Leadership Opinion Questionnaire, which was produced as part of the Ohio State Leadership Studies, has always been part of our core assessment battery.  Moreover, data we collected with that measure ended up being the focus of Dr. Francoeur’s (2008) dissertation, which has been used in subsequent research on the Ohio State Model.  To learn more about how PCI can help you hire and develop great leaders, contact Dr. Francoeur at: kfrancoeur@thepeoplecompanyintl.com.

Citations

¹ Judge, T. A., Piccolo, R. F., & Ilies, R. (2004). The forgotten ones? The validity of Consideration and Initiating Structure in leadership research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 765-780.

² Keller, R. T. (2006). Transformational Leadership, Initiating Structure, and substitutes for leadership: A longitudinal study of research and development project team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 202-210.

³ Derue, D. S., Nahrgang, J. D., Wellman, N., & Humphrey, S. E. (2011). Trait and Behavioral theories of leadership: An integration and meta-analytic test of their relative validity. Personnel Psychology, 64, 7-52. 

⁴ Piccolo, R. F., Bono, J.E., Heinitz, K., Rowold, J., Duehr, E., & Judge, T. A. (2012). The relative impact of complementary leader behaviors: Which matter most? Leadership Quarterly, 23, 567-581.

⁵ Lambert, L. S., Tepper, B. J., Carr, J. C., Holt, D. T., & Barelka, A. J. (2012). Forgotten but not gone: An examination of fit between leader consideration and initiating structure needed and received. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 913-930.    

⁶ Holtz, B. C., & Harold, C. M. (2013). Effects of leadership consideration and structure on employee perceptions of justice and counterproductive work behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34, 492-529.

⁷ Francoeur, K. A. (2008). The relationship between the five-factor model of personality and leadership preferences for initiating structure and consideration. (Doctoral Dissertation)

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