When does leadership really matter? When doesn’t it?



We’ve seen research that shows leaders make no difference:

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… 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).

And studies that show they can have a profound effect:

Via The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism:

Research shows that those following charismatic leaders perform better, experience their work as more meaningful, and have more trust in their leaders than those following effective but noncharismatic leaders.

What’s the deal? New research may resolve the discrepancy:

The best teams self-manage. They don’t need leaders. Lesser teams need more steering.

Via Science Daily:

In high functioning teams the group takes over most of the management function themselves,” says Stephen Courtright, assistant professor at Texas A&M University who recently received his doctoral degree from UI and was a member of the research group. “They work with each other, they encourage and support each other, and they coordinate with outside teams. They collectively perform the role of a good manager.”


However, this works only when team members get along. When they don’t, then self-managed teams perform worse than cohesive teams. When team members don’t much care for each other, Courtright says appealing to team spirit as a motivating factor won’t work because there is no team spirit to appeal to, so money becomes the primary motivating factor to improve productivity.

“Teams perform better when there is social pressure from peers to perform well than when peers wave a carrot and stick,” Courtright says. “However, the carrot and stick method works pretty well when team members just can’t get along.”

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