Home Business & Finance Distance Leadership in International Corporations: Why Organizations Struggle when Distances Grow
Dominating leadership behaviors in large international corporations of the technology industry
This study assessed leadership from followers’ perspectives using 36 items of the MLQ 5X short on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (frequently, if not always). The results indicate that for the present sample, transformational leadership is perceived as the dominant leadership style (M = 3.65). In comparison to prior research (e.g., Howell & Avolio, 1993; Walumbwa et al., 2008), transformational leadership was perceived as more distinctive in the present investigation (A M = 0.27 - 0.44). Concerning those studies that assessed leadership including one of the three distance components (physical distance, relationship quality, or interaction frequency), a similar picture can be drawn regarding the dominant behaviors in organizations. The incorporated studies reported transformational leadership assessed from followers’ perspectives to be comparatively high, regardless of whether distance was involved as a study subject or not. Investigations by Howell and Hall-Merenda (1999) and Howell et al. (2005) found mean values for perceptions of transformational leadership of M = 2.77 and M = 2.69 respectively. Studies by Andressen et al. (2012), Hoyt and Blascovich (2003), Neufeld et al. (2010), and Walumbwa et al. (2008) reported lower mean scores for perceived transformational leadership than the present study. Except for the study by Neufeld et al. (2010), transformational leadership still represented the style perceived as most characteristic by subordinates.
Scores for perceptions of transactional leadership seem to match findings by previous researchers who report transactional leadership to be fairly high, yet lower than for transformational leadership. Howell and Hall-Merenda and Howell et al. (2005) confirm contingent reward leadership at a mean level of 2.48, and 2.52 respectively. The present work found transactional leadership to be within a comparable range, residing at 3.47 for the higher-order factor. For laissez-faire leadership, the value of the present study (M = 2.14) is found to be comparable to prior research outcomes, located at 2.00 in a recent study by Zach (2014) and 1.46 reported by Tartler, Goihl, Kroeger and Felfe (2003).
In observing the variances in leadership behavior at different stages of physical distance, it was discovered that transformational leadership was the dominating behavior for all followers, regardless of the level of distance. However, respondents who were close to their leaders (1 - 10 km; M = 3.49) and those who were very distant (more than 1,000 km; M = 3.51) from each other in location presented remarkably lower mean scores. The lower mean values for followers who are more than 1,000 km away can be explained by the challenges in transferring transformational leadership if face-to-face interaction is rare. Communication in that case is done primarily over digital media devices and facets like attributed or behavioral idealized influence are more difficult to transmit. Role-modeling and providing vision can hardly be done over the telephone, via chat or e-mail. The low mean score for the close group can be potentially due to a state of negligence. Those, for example, located in another building, but still somehow near can be found in a dichotomy or
interval state where the leader is equally near but far. The followers at that specific distance indicate one of the lowest scores for interaction frequency (M = 2.08) compared to the other groups. Yet, together with the very distant group (M = 2.16), the close group (M = 3.17) reports a significantly lower extent of face-to-face interaction. This particular group - neither near nor far - exhibits specific variations. Leaders might not plan face-to-face interaction with these group members as they are anyway not far away. However, leaders of these followers could then devote their time to other activities, simply “forgetting” about these followers. Even if they seem near, they can be out-of-reach.
Transactional behavior shows no significant differences for members of particular distance groups. It has to be mentioned, however, that transactional behavior is high and varies little from the overall mean score, which may indicate that transactional leadership is a prerequisite of transformational leadership and therefore needs to be present to a certain extent (Furtner & Baldegger, 2013).
Comparing the different distant groups with regards to passive leadership, the outcomes confirm that the close group reports the highest ratings of passive leadership (M = 2.41) together with the very distant group (M = 2.41). Evidence is further provided as passive leadership is negatively correlated with the number of face-to face interactions (r = -.15, p < .01).
Concluding the findings of more and less dominant leadership behaviors within the sample, the most surprising outcome included the similarities between the groups who were close and those who were very distant. The outcome can be explained by the fact that that close followers are in a hybrid state of closeness and distance. The leader is likely to disregard these followers as they seem near and easy to reach, yet are distant.
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