with Flawed Leadership:
Substitutes, Neutralizers & Enhancements
Although there are some theorists (Pfeffer, 1977) who suggest that leadership may be irrelevant to most organizational outcomes, the majority of practitioners and theorists alike believe it is here to stay, regardless of how well it is performed. The incidence of problematic leadership is quite high according to some reports. Although it may be easy to terminate lower level employees, it can be extremely difficult to remove high level or firmly esconced leaders who are no longer functional. However, there are strategies that can help organizations cope with such problems.
Some situations have been identified that lend themselves to substitutes or neutralizers for leadership (Kerr & Jermier, 1978). Substitutes are ways in which the characteristics of organizations, teams, tasks and individuals can provide substitutes for the task and social behaviors of dysfunctional leaders. For example, if members have high information and training about a task, they need to rely less on supervision. Likewise, when support, feedback, and collegiality are available from peers, there is less reliance on supervisory social or consideration behaviors. Self-managed teams are also a replacement for leadership. The table below shows substitutes and neutralizers:
Leadership Substitutes & Neutralizers Substitutes / Neutralizers Supportive Leadership Instrumental Leadership Subordinate Characteristics Experience & training Substitute Professionalism Substitute Substitute Lack of value placed on organizational rewards Neutralizer Neutralizer Task Characteristics Unambiguous tasks Substitute Direct feedback from task Substitute Challenging task Substitute Organizational Characteristics Cohesive team Substitute Substitute Leader's lack of power Neutralizer Neutralizer Standardization & formalization Substitute Organizational rigidity Neutralizer Physical distance between leader and subordinates Neutralizer Neutralizer
A more structured way of arriving at the recommended solution is to use a decision tree. Note that under certain circumstances (e.g., leader has traits, skills, and knowledge), rather than substitute or neutralize, the position of the leader is enhanced or empowered to make him/her more effective.
A third model expands on substitutes and enhancements:
Strategies for Improving Effective Leadership Substitutes for leader direction & support Enhancers for leader direction & support Develop colleagial systems of guidance:
- peer appraisals to increase acceptibility of feedback of subordinates
- Quality cfircles to increase workers' control ober production quality
- Peer support networks; mentoring systems
Increase subordinates perceptions of the leader's influence/expertise:
- Provide a visible champion
- Give leader important organizational responsibilities
- Build leader's image through in-house publications and other means
Improve performance oriented organizational formalization
- Automatic organization reward system (such as commissions or gainsharing)
- Group Management-by-Objectives (MBO) program
- Company mission statements and codes of conduct
Build organizational climate:
- Reward small wins to increase subordinate confidence
- emphasize ceremony and myth to enhance team spirit
- Develop superordinate goals to encourage cohesiveness and high performance norms
Increase administrative staff availability:
- Specialized training personnel
- Trouble shooters for human relations problems
- Technical advisors to assist production operators
Increase subordinates dependence on leader:
- Create crises requiring immediate action
- Increase leader centrality in providing information
- Eliminate one-over-one approvals
Increase professionalism of subordinates:
- Staffing based on employees professionalism
- Development plans to increase employees abilities and experience
- Encourage active participation in professional organizations and associations
Increase leader's position power:
- Change title to increase status
- Increase reward power
- Increase resource base
Redesign jobs to increase:
- Performance feedback from the task
- Ideological importance of jobs
Create cohesive work groups with high performance norms:
- Provide physical setting conducive to teamwork
- Encourage subordinates participation in group problem solving
- Increase group's status
- Create intergroup competition
Start team-building activities to develop group self-management skills such as:
- Solving work related problems on their own
- Resolving interpersonal conflicts among members
- Providing interpersonal support to members
The feasibility of changing a problematic situation can be difficult to determine, and there is not clear formula for its assessment. Here are some criteria that can be used for consideration:
- Will tampering/intervening with the situation make it worse? Will attempted intervention increase the resistance, stress, or punishment?
- Will it get better on its own SOON without intervention? (e.g., retirement, imminent transfer, health problems, legal issues, etc.)
- Will it take more effort and expense to change it than will be gained in benefit?
- Do you have "response-ability" to influence the conditions and outcome (e.g., right, legitimacy, authority)?
- Can such change be done within the constraints of time, oney, safety, skills, effort, availability, support, etc?
- Will the probable amount of change due to the intervention be anough to reduce the problem effects?
This model has not been tested adequately, and the conditions need to be defined more clearly. In a non-US cultural study (Farh, Podsakoff & Cheng, 1987), there was no support for the model.
Farh, J. L., Podsakoff, P. M., & Cheng, B. S. (1987, Fall). Culture free leadership effectiveness versus moderators of leadership behavior: An extension and test of Kerr and Jermier's "Substitutes for leadership" model in Taiwan. Journal of International Business Studies, 43-60.
Kerr, S., & Jermier, J. M. (1978). Substitutes for leadership: Their meaning and measurement. Organizational Behavior & Human Performance, 22, 375-403.
Pfeffer, J. (1977, April). The ambiguity of leadership. Academy of Management Review, 104-112.
Last updated 1-21-00
David X. Swenson PhD