Home Business & Finance Distance Leadership in International Corporations: Why Organizations Struggle when Distances Grow
Structural distance refers to the actual physical distance between work spaces of leaders and followers as well as to organizational characteristics (Napier & Ferris, 1993). The dimension further encompasses elements of hierarchical distance and implies features of perceived frequency of leader-follower interaction (Antonakis & Atwater, 2002). The dimension is characterized by little face-to-face interaction and is known to create challenges that can severely affect the performance of distant teams. Quality of exchange is negatively affected by structural distance (Bass, 1990). Avolio and colleagues (2004) define structural distance as the variance in direct and indirect contact between the parties.
Napier and Ferris (1993) express functional distance to be “the degree of closeness and quality of the functional working relationship between the supervisor and subordinate; [...] whether the subordinate is a member of the in-group or the out-group of the supervisor” (p. 337). Comprising the four dimensions of affect, perceptual congruence, latitude, and relationship quality, functional distance is rooted in LMX theory (Graen, 1976). One popular influence on the leader-follower relationship is trust, which the affect dimension entails. Today numerous independent studies are concentrating on the development of trust in close and distant contexts (DeRosa et al., 2004; Kanawattanachai & Yoo, 2002; Schaubroeck et al., 2011). Napier and Ferris (1993) explain that single dimensions of functional distance are congruent with similarity. Similarity, however, is associated with intrinsic values and might therefore not refer to externalities, such as context (Shamir, 2013). This dimension overlaps with Antonakis and Atwater’s (2002) perceived leader-follower interaction frequency. According to these researchers, close leaders interact more frequently with their subordinates than distant leaders do. High structural distance further is expected to have negative effects on subordinate performance (Napier & Ferris, 1993). Conversely, higher interaction frequency showed increased performance and greater satisfaction of subordinates. Still, a high quantity of interaction is not necessarily related to a high quality of communication (Antonakis & Atwater, 2002, p. 687).
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