Are there different levels of leadership success? When considering leadership outcomes there must be. Leaders of different companies in the same industry have different results all the time. Of course, we can analyze success in different areas like profit margin or employee retention rates but let’s keep it simple and use overall effectiveness. There are plenty of companies that sell the same product but have different financial outcomes. Should we attribute these occurrences to luck or leadership? You may be thinking, “well one company may have a better marketing department, or better customer service, etc., etc.”.; but isn’t it the leader of that company who holds ultimate responsibility. This post intends to offer the “why” for different levels of leadership and then explain the “how” in taking leadership to a higher level of success. (Although, this premise can be used in leadership outside of business, I will be focusing on business leadership in this discussion).
In explaining “why” I believe there are different levels of leadership success, I will start by simply pointing out the differing effectiveness levels of transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership. “Transformational leadership is a better predictor of organizational effectiveness than transactional or laissez-faire leadership” (Williams, 2018, Less. 10). Does organizational effectiveness translate to revenue earning effectiveness? I think it does, ceteris paribus. Using earnings as our measure, I think it is fair to say that transformational leadership is most effective, transactional leadership follows, and least effective is laissez-faire leadership. We have 3 levels already! To reinforce my point; Lowe, Kroeck, and Sivasubramaniam (1996) “found that people who exhibited transformational leadership were perceived to be more effective leaders with better work outcomes than those who exhibited only transactional leadership” (Northouse, 2016, pg. 116). It is how the leader behaves that changes the level of leadership effectiveness. “Transformational leadership behavior that elicits second-order changes in employee efforts is more highly associated with effectiveness than the traditional first order changes resulting from transactional behaviors. (Lowe, Kroeck, and Sivasubramaniam, 1996, pg. 420).
Explaining every leadership theory that suggests why leadership has levels of success is beyond the scope of this blog. I’m merely scratching the surface to show that different levels of leadership effectiveness exist. Effectiveness promotes success. And success is measured in levels. I’ll offer one more connection that has its roots in the skills approach: social intelligence. “Successful leaders have as individual characteristics two components of social intelligence, social perceptiveness and behavioral flexibility” (Zaccaro et al., 1991, pg. 317). It is proposed that leaders with advanced skill in these two characteristics (of social intelligence) will be more effective in leadership. This theory holds the potential of many levels of leadership success.
Now on to the “how.” How can a leader elevate to a higher level of success? If you’ve read this far, the answer should be apparent—focus on the “why.” My argument is that if an individual learns the exact reasons that one leader functions on a higher level than another, than it simply follows to develop in those reasons to raise that level. The “why” is peppered throughout all the leadership theories and the “how” is to internalize and develop. “Patterns of abilities, motives and personality characteristics associated with higher skill and knowledge levels are positively related to leader performance” (Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly, et al., 2000, pg. 159). I’m convinced leadership can be learned and developed. “Leadership development address observable, conscious, and rational phenomena” (Northouse, 2016, pg. 296). Developing an individual’s leadership leads to next level leadership.
In conclusion, knowing “why” certain skills, behaviors, situations, relationships, etc., work in leadership is what I propose is the most important factor in leadership success. “And it’s those who start with ‘why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them” (Sinek, 2009, 17:40).
Lowe, K. B., Kroeck, K. G., & Sivasubramaniam, N. (1996). Effectiveness correlates of transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic review of the MLQ literature. Leadership Quarterly, 7(3), 385–425.
Mumford, M. D., Zaccaro, S. J., Connelly, M. S., & Marks, M. A. (2000). Leadership skills: Conclusions and future directions. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 155–170.
Northouse, Peter. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Sinek, Simon. 2009, Sept. TEDtalks. How great leaders inspire action. Retrieved at https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action
Williams, Jason. (2018). Pennsylvania State University. Lesson 10: Transformational Leadership. A Model of Transformational Leadership – Research. Retrieved at https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1940315/modules/items/24597570
Zaccaro, S. J., Gilbert, J., Thor, K. K., & Mumford, M. D. (1991). Leadership and social intelligence: Linking social perceptiveness and behavioral flexibility to leader effectiveness. Leadership Quarterly, 2, 317–331.