Does leadership matter?

There’s a strong argument that in most cases leaders don’t make much of a difference and that results are more due to the team:

Leader succession studies show that managerial change has little impact on team performance. In general, these studies support a skeptical view of the significance of organizational leaders (Thomas, 1993, pp. 126–128). Hogan et al. (1994, p. 494) claim that “some coaches can move from team to team transforming losers into winners is, for most people, evidence that leadership matters”. This statement is not concurrent with scientific evidence. Grusky (1963) examined the frequency of succession of managers of baseball teams and found that teams, which changed managers more frequently, tended to occupy lower positions. Gamson and Scotch (1964) found that managerial change had little impact on team performance. Eitzen and Yetman (1972) studied the impact of new team coaches in basketball and concluded that their performance could not be attributed to team coach succes- sions. Allen et al. (1979) found that changing managers had only a slight impact on baseball team performance. Brown (1982) reaches the same conclusion after studying football teams in USA. In their study of basketball teams Fizel and D’Itri (1999) found that winning, not efficiency was the key criterion used in determining managerial retention. When managers of losing teams were dismissed, the teams tended to do even worse. There is very little evidence that changes in top management in companies affect, in important ways, the magnitude of such traditional performance measures as sales, income and rates of return (Samuelson et al.,1985).

Source: “Leadership, personality and effectiveness” from The Journal of Socio-Economics 35 (2006) 1078–1091


Leadership appears to have, however, far less impact on organizational effectiveness than commonly believed.

The arguments presented here suggest the following conclusions: (1) on scientific ground no trait or traits are found which are universally related to leadership, (2) traits of leaders cannot explain organizational effectiveness, (3) there is a relationship between personality and leader behavior as between personality and behavior in general, and finally (4) leadership appears to have a minor impact on organizational effectiveness. The management of organizations is not about being or who you are. It is about acting and what you do and accomplish.

I found that last sentence pretty interesting: “It is about acting” And more research backed that up. Good leaders adapt to the company — not the other way around:

However, Farkas and Wetlaufer (1996) found when studying 160 chief executives that the explicit leadership styles of management were not a reflection of personal style. In effective companies the CEOs did not simply adopt the leadership approach that suited their personalities, but instead adopted the approach that would best meet the needs of the organization and the business situation at hand (Farkas and Wetlaufer, 1996, p. 111). Farkas and Wetlaufer (1996) emphasize that they do not see leadership as a generic trait or that a person’s approach to leadership is solely a function of personality. Their research suggests that some very good leaders repress certain personality traits, or develop ones they were not born with, in order to run their organization effectively (Farkas and Wetlaufer, 1996, p. 114). Farkas and Wetlaufer (1996) hold that until scientists discover a gene for leadership the debate about personality will persist. This is unlikely to occur. Their research indicates that leaders are not driven by what they are like inside but by what the outside demands (Farkas and Wetlaufer, 1996, p. 114). Hartman (1999, p. 31) also found that personality factors could not predict and did not correlate with leadership practices. In fact, studies of leadership behavior show profound differences between leaders in areas like leadership style, decision-making style, conflict behavior, motivation and creativity to mention a few areas. Vinkenburg et al. (2001) focused on decision-making processes behind overt managerial behavior trying to find out why managers do things the way they do. Most academics agree that behavior is a function of both individual and situational factors. However, which of the two factors explains the most variance in behavior is still a topic of heated polemics (Vinkenburg et al., 2001, p. 218). Vinkenburg et al. (2001, p. 234) found that, in general, situational factors have a larger impact on the behavior choices of managers than personal factors.

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