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Book Review – Leadership Meta-Competencies

It’s rare that a book comes along that covers the topic of leadership in a way which makes me sit up and take notice but that is exactly what Leadership Meta-Competencies by Dimitris Bourantas and Vasia Agapitou has done.

I am very naughty with books and journals, and anything that sparks my interest gets highlighted or I write notes to myself in the margin.  This book is covered in my scrawling meme’s.  I was hooked from the first page and by the time I had read Chapter 1 I had discovered the most succinct yet thorough overview of leadership theories I have ever read – and I have to many books to count on leadership theories.


Most delightfully, for an academic practitioner was the presentation of theories from a critical perspective.  It didn’t just describe the theories but evaluated their usefulness in the ongoing debate.

But the delights of the book don’t stop there.  You might be put off by some of the academic language – phronsis, existential thinking and meta-competence might not be the language of business, but what is contained within is useful, practice… intelligible.

If you are looking for a book that bridges the gap (the gulf) between academic thinking and research and what to do with it in the real world, then this book does that in buckets.  It takes the theory and does something with it that is rare but so important.  Makes sense of it so that you can apply the thinking in your day to day.

The blurb says “it contains no check lists or recipes for success and it presents no theoretically-based models” and that is true.  But what it does do, is gets you thinking and surely that is the point of any literature.

Whether you are an academic or a practitioner.  Studying or working in the real world.  If you want to understand Leadership competencies in the work place – start here.


Organizational Psychology – Leadership

Answers the Question

What do psychologists know about leadership and what has yet to be learned?

How it Began

Hackman and Wageman 2007, stated that the leadership field, despite its long and chequered history in industrial and organizational psychology was “curiously unformed.” This view is supported by the myraid definitions relating to the construct of leadership, a tendency to theorize about leadership that lacks forms, models, and habits of leadership which are essential for transforming the way we use power and how we respond to power and leadership.


Since the 1940s many attempts have been made to define and study the process of leadership in terms of the interaction between leader and the organizational environment with all its social complexities.  Research has shifted from a heroic leader centric focus to that which recognizes leaders are part of an inclusive process involving follows and social, organisational and environmental factors.  The necessity being to keep in mind that leadership is a process not a person.

The multi-faceted, multi-level, interpersonal and multi-functional dynamic of leadership coupled with the increasingly complex challenges  makes a scientific definition of leadership impossible to achieve.  However, with the increasing complexity of modern organizational life, leaders need to be more highly developed and more leaders need to be developed.

Key Terminology

  • Leadership – the art of influencing followers to achieve success by identifying joint goals, finding best-fit roles in teams, collaborating constructively and dynamically, and adapting to change within their environments.
  • Traits – A trait is a characteristic of a person’s personality, motives, and pattern of behaviour.
  • Behaviours – The actions by which a leader adjusts to its environment.
  • Contingency – Changing leadership behaviour or style by modifying its consequences
  • Charisma – A rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm
  • Transformational – when leaders and followers make each other to advance to a higher level of moral and motivation.
  • Leader-Member Exchange – The formation of two groups by a leader of an in-group and an out-group, of followers
  • Leadership Perceptions – How leaders perceive subordinates
  • Shared Leadership – Contexts in which leadership and influence is distributed across the teams

In Brief

There are too many leadership theories to cover in brief.  Below are just some of the theories developed over the last 70 years.

  • Situation Leadership – Hersey & Blanchard (1971) – Examines appropriate leadership behaviours for different situations
  • Contingency Theory – Fiedler (1964, 1967) – Assumes that leaders cannot change their behaviour, but instead recommends matching leaders based on the preferred leadership style to specific situations and contexts.
  • Path Goal Theory – Evans, (1970, 1974); House and Dessler, 1974) – Explores how leaders can motivate followers to achieve set goals and improve their own and the organization’s performance.
  • Leadership Substitutes Theory – Kerr and Jermier (1978) – Explores situational variables (contextual aspects of the task, subordinates, organization) that can make a leader ineffective or redundant
  • Normative Decision Model – Vroom and Yetton (1973) – Further decision making procedures of participative leaders and their effectiveness
  • Cognitive Resources Theory – Fiedler and Garcia (1987) – The interaction of different sources of stress on a leadership’s cognitive ability and leadership behaviours and their impact on group performance
  • Multiple-Linkage Model – Yukl (1971) – Examines how situational variables moderate the influence of a leader’s behaviour on individual and group performance
  • Leaders-Member Exchange Theory – Dansereau et al (1975) – The vertical links between the individual leader and follower.
  • Leadership Making – Graen and Uhl-Bien (1991) – Prescribes that it is vital for leaders to develop as many high-quality exchanges and work relationships as possible.
  • Charismatic Leadership – Beyer and Browning (1999) – Behavioural view of charisma, identifying what a charismatic leader does or how they behave.
  • Transformational Leadership Theory – Downton (1973) – The leadership process of changing how people feel about themselves, which in turn raises their motivation and enables them to achieve performance beyond normal expectations.
  • Transactional Leadership Theory – Burns ( (1978) – the transaction or exchange between leader and followers, resulting in a material or psychological reward for followers compliance.
  • Full Range Leadership Model – Avolio and Bass (1993, 2002) – Comprises of three component dimensions; transformational leadership, transactional leadership and laissez-faire or non-leadership.


Further Resources

  1. Leadership in Organizations – Deanne, Hartog and Koopman
  2. The New Psychology of Leadership – Haslam, Reicher and Platow
  3. The Psychology of Leadership New Perspective and Research – Messick and Kramer
  4. The New Psychology of Strategic Leadership – Gavetti
  5. A Social Identity Theory of Leadership – Hogg
  6. Trait Approach to Leadership – Fleenor
  7. Leadership Development for Organizational Success -Kraus and Wilson
  8. Leader Effectiveness and Culture: The GLOBE Study
  9. Two Decades of Research and Development in Transformational Leadership – Bass
  10. Organizational Culture and Leadership – Schein

What does this mean for Organization Development?

With Leadership such a complex construct the OD approach to developing effective leaders should be to see it as a component of developing effective teams and organisations.  At times this may involve working intensively with individual skills, aspirations and behaviours; sometimes the focus may be on design and delivery of development activities; at other times the OD practitioner may find themselves supporting teams, whole organisations or systems as they lead people through change.

The central focus however, is always to explore why and how leaders experience of leadership can be improved and enhanced and employees can be mobilized to do their best.



Organizational Psychology – Uncovering Causality

Answers the Question

How do you remove problems to the validity of interpretations of cause and effect in organizational research?

How it Began

Research and statistics play a large role in the studies of organizational psychology. There are many methods of research and statistics used to determine information and answers to the many questions posed by organizational psychologists. When collecting data, researchers must be aware of several issues that can affect the validity of their research. Generalizing information across differing organizations can commonly lead to mistakes. Research methods vary and should be used to suit the questions at hand.

cause and effect

Research and statistics are a key component in organizational psychology, and they are used to determine and analyze data. These tools are used to greatly increase the effectiveness and success of an organization.  Since inferring causal relationships is one of the central tasks of science, it is a topic that has been heavily debated in the use of organizational development consultancy.

Cause and effect is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in science and is often misused in an attempt to add legitimacy to research.   The basic principle of causality is determining whether the results and trends observed are actually caused by the intervention or whether some other factor may underlie the process.

Business schools perpetuate the myth that the outcomes of changes in organizations can be managed using models that are rooted in the scientific-rational mode of enquiry. In essence, such models assume that all important variables that affect an outcome (i.e. causes) are known and that the relationship between these variables and the outcomes (i.e. effects) can be represented accurately by simple models. This is the nature of explanation in the hard sciences such as physics and is pretty much the official line adopted by mainstream management research and teaching

The first thing to remember with causality, especially in the non-physical sciences, is that it is impossible to establish complete causality.

Reliability and validity are extremely difficult to achieve in organisation studies. Unlike chemical and biological processes that can be controlled within laboratories, studying humans has the added complication that the humans can figure out they are being studied and shift results.

But even if a strong case can be made for reliability and validity, three conditions must be satisfied to demonstrate cause and effect (essentially to strengthen the case for it). These conditions are all necessary but no one of them is sufficient:

  • The cause has to occur in time before the effect.
  • Changes in the cause has to create a corresponding change in the effect.
  • No other explanation for the relationship can be present.

Key Terminology

Causality – Causality refers to the relationship between events where one set of events (the effects) is a direct consequence of another set of events (the causes).

Causal inference – the process by which one can use data to make claims about causal relationships.

Reliability – the study is replicable and can be conducted repeatedly in the same manner as before, preferably by other people to reduce bias.

Validity – the study is actually measuring what it is assuming it is measuring

In Brief

Cause and effect means establishing that one variable has caused a change in the other variable for example has an increase in stress levels caused employee turnover. It is important to establish cause and effect, so that an undesirable effect can be changed or eliminated i.e. reducing employee turnover by decreasing levels of stress.

To show that an outcome was directly caused by an intervention, there are three criteria we need to consider:

  1. Time-order effect: The intervention must precede the outcome. The introduction of the OD intervention occurred before the changes in the measured outcome occurred.
  2. Strength of association: There is a correlation between the desired outcome and the intervention. For instance, there should be trend between those who participated in the intervention, and the corresponding increase in a measured outcome.
  3. Exclusion of alternate explanations: There should be no other major explanation attributed to the outcome except for that of your intervention. For example, if significant change in work plans also took place during that period, which subsequently impacted the measured outcome, the causality of the OD intervention on the outcome could be cast in doubt.

Examples of Methods of Research

Simple observation, the most basic of research strategies, involves observing and systematically recording behaviour.  The purpose of observational studies in the Organization Development Diagnostic Phase is to produce data that demonstrates a strong cases for causation is obviously to create effective solutions to real problems. In the evaluation phase the Organization Development consultant will seek to provide data to demonstrate the changes that the intervention has delivered.

Archival data represent any form of data or records that are compiled for purposes that are independent of the research being conducted. By far the most widely used form of data collection in organizational diagnostic intervention is survey research. Survey research simply involves asking participants to report about their attitudes and/or behaviours, either in writing or verbally.

If the data is problematic, the treatment will be ineffective and sometimes harmful.

However, organizations have come to a stark conclusion that understanding the diverse dynamics of organization, group and individual behaviour in the work place is extremely important financially. Employees understanding of their role in a company and their particular enthusiasm and loyalty play pivotal roles. Many companies realize that keeping employees motivated and engaged is a financially sound business practice. High turnover of skilled employees is not a desired effect organizations are looking for. Organizational psychology and the effective employment of causality research design can be and are of tremendous benefit to organizations that realize the importance of the connection between people and performance.

What does this mean for Organization Development?

Research methodology and statistical analysis are crucial to the practice of organizational development. Research methodology and statistical analysis may be used to evaluate some intervention designed to enhance organizational effectiveness.  To date, there are people who still wonder if OD efforts are indeed effective in improving organisational performance. This is why there is a need to show how well OD interventions are working — and having a sound evaluation strategy is key to doing so.

Demonstrating causality can be challenging in organisations given its dynamism and the possible emergence of new factors— internal and external that can have an influence on the desired outcome. This is why it is important to clearly establish the leader’s expectations during the contracting meeting — the face-to-face meeting with the leader, where you get to ask probing questions to better understand his/her expectations on the desired outcome, as well as establish the expectation that the intervention can have a direct influence on the desired outcome. Securing agreement on these expectations can go a long way in ensuring that our efforts in outcome evaluation will be accepted by our leader. But even when agreement is secured, it is advisable that we continually check in with our leader throughout the duration of the intervention implementation to make sure that what we are doing is still on the right path.


Social Psychology – Obedience

Answers the Question

What circumstances produce obedience to authority even when doing something that can inflict extraordinary harm on their fellow human beings?

How it Began

One of the most famous studies of obedience in psychology was carried out by Stanley Milgram (1963).

Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, conducted an experiment focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience.  Milgram was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. Stanley Milgram was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities for example, the justifications for acts of genocide offered by those accused at the World War II, Nuremberg War Criminal trials. Their defence often was based on “obedience” – that they were just following orders of their superiors.

Milgram selected participants for his experiment by advertising for male participants to take part in a study of learning at Yale University. The procedure was that the participant was paired with another person and they drew lots to find out who would be the ‘learner’ and who would be the ‘teacher’. The draw was fixed so that the participant was always the teacher, and the learner was one of Milgram’s confederates (pretending to be a real participant).


The learner (a confederate called Mr. Wallace) was taken into a room and had electrodes attached to his arms, and the teacher and researcher went into a room next door that contained an electric shock generator and a row of switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Danger: Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX).

The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).

The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock and turned to the experimenter for guidance, he was given the standard instruction /order (consisting of 4 prods):

  • Prod 1: please continue.
  • Prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue.
  • Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  • Prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue.

65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.

Key Terminology

Obedience – form of social influence where an individual acts in response to a direct order from another individual, who is usually an authority figure. It is assumed that without such an order the person would not have acted in this way.

In Brief

Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. Obey parents, teachers, anyone in authority etc.

Milgram summed up in the article “The Perils of Obedience” (Milgram 1974), writing:

“The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.”

What does this mean for Organization Development?

The obedience experiments have been widely used in various domains to create broader organizational changes in large segments of society. Some textbooks on business ethics have used those experiments to warn students about the unethical demands that might be made on them by their bosses in the business world.

Obedience occurs when you are told to do something (authority), whereas conformity happens through social pressure (the norms of the majority). Obedience involves a hierarchy of power / status. Therefore, the person giving the order has a higher status than the person receiving the order.

We did not need Milgram’s research to inform us that people have a propensity to obey authority; what it did enlighten us about is the surprising strength of that tendency-that many people are willing to obey destructive orders that conflict with their moral principles and commit acts which they would not carry out on their own initiative. Once people have accepted the right of an authority to direct our actions, Milgram argued, we relinquish responsibility to him or her and allow that person to define for us what is right or wrong.

An application of Milgram’s research is that it suggests specific preventive actions people can take to resist unwanted pressures from authorities:

Question the authority’s legitimacy. We often give too wide a berth to people who project a commanding presence, either by their demeanor or by their mode of dress and follow their orders even in contexts irrelevant to their authority. For example, one study found that wearing a fireman’s uniform significantly increased a person’s persuasive powers to get a passerby to give change to another person so he could feed a parking meter.

When instructed to carry out an act you find abhorrent, even by a legitimate authority, stop and ask yourself: “Is this something I would do on my own initiative?” The answer may well be “No,” because, according to Milgram, moral considerations play a role in acts carried out under one’s own steam, but not when they emanate from an authority’s commands.

Don’t even start to comply with commands you feel even slightly uneasy about. Acquiescence to the commands of an authority that are only mildly objectionable is often, as in Milgram’s experiments, the beginning of a step-by-step, escalating process of entrapment. The farther one moves along the continuum of increasingly destructive acts, the harder it is to extract oneself from the commanding authority’s grip, because to do so is to confront the fact that the earlier acts of compliance were wrong.

If you are part of a group that has been commanded to carry out immoral actions, find an ally in the group who shares your perceptions and is willing to join you in opposing the objectionable commands. It is tremendously difficult to be a lone dissenter, not only because of the strong human need to belong, but also because-via the process of pluralistic ignorance-the compliance of others makes the action seem acceptable and leads you to question your own negative judgment. In one of Milgram’s conditions the naïve subject was one of a 3-person teaching team. The other two were actually confederates who-one after another-refused to continue shocking the victim. Their defiance had a liberating influence on the subjects, so that only 10% of them ended up giving the maximum shock.



The Theorists – Bob Tannerbaum

There are a number of individuals who throughout the history and emergence of Organization Development have made a significant contribution to both the academic theory and practice of the field of OD.

Bob Tannerbaum in Brief

Bob Tannenbaum humanist vision profoundly affected the field of organizational development for more than 50 years, starting from a deep-seated belief about the importance of personal consciousness and the capacities of people to grow themselves psychologically, with derivative payouts in interpersonal sensitivity, Tannenbaum’s work was a forerunner contributor to considerations of human capital as a corporate asset.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, he was instrumental in establishing UCLA’s Graduate School of Management as a key centre of thought and practice in the fields of organization development and leadership training. During this period he helped found the Western Training Lab, which promulgated a derivative of T-groups that became known as Sensitivity Training, and played an important role in the evolution of the NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science, which spearheaded the drive to utilize group dynamics as an important pedagogy for promoting increased awareness of self and impact on others as essential to team play in the corporate environment.

Bob Tannenbaum’s intellectual work described organizational systems not as machines with interchangeable human parts, but as living communities that can be designed to enable people to grow and learn while achieving business goals. His writings, as well as his teaching and consulting, reflected the value he placed on people, and his belief that, to a great extent, leadership effectiveness derives from awareness of one’s own basic assumptions about human nature and the testing out and revision of those assumptions.

Bob Tannerbaum – Life and Times

  • 1916 – Born Cripple Creek Colorado
  • 1935 – Achieved an A.A. degree from Santa Ana Junior College
  • 1937 – Received an A.B. degree in business administration at the University of Chicago
  • 1937 – Instructor in Accounting at Oklahoma A&M College
  • 1938 – Received an MBA in Accounting at the University of Chicago
  • 1939 – Began Ph.D Studies in Industrial Relations
  • 1942 – Enlisted in Navy as Officer in Pacific teaching Radar
  • 1945 – Married Edith Lazaroff
  • 1946 – Return to Chicago to Finish his Doctorate
  • 1948 – Completed Ph.D
  • 1948 – Joined UCLA -The Anderson School as Acting Assistant Professor and Assistant Research Economist
  • 1958 – Published Journal Article How to Choose a Leadership Pattern
  • 1960 – Published Journal Article Management Differences
  • 1961 – Published Leadership and Organization
  • 1973 – Published Journal Article How to Choose a Leadership Pattern
  • 1977 – Retired as Professor of Human Systems Development to concentrate on consulting and counselling executives.
  • 2003 – Died

Tannerbaum – Key Contributions 

Pioneer in the West Coast movement that valued personal development and teamwork as instrumental to organization effectiveness.

Tannenbaum’s work from the 1950s to the 1970s with Western Training Lab and the NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science was considered crucial to the development of modern small-group processes such as “sensitivity training” and “T-groups.”

First to describe a leadership continuum ranging from an autocratic manager — “the leader makes the decision and announces it to the group” -to a more democratic process in which employees are deeply involved in decision-making.