10.1 Leadership vs. Management


Many people use the term leadership as interchangeable with management, but the two terms are actually quite different. The term management implies someone has been given a position, and through that position or title they have power to guide others. Leadership, on the other hand, does not require specific titles. Consider the last group project you worked on for school. It was likely that someone took on the leadership role for this project, such as coordinating schedules, e-mailing the team, and so forth. This person did not have a formal title but lead the group anyway. This is an example of leadership. To be successful at our jobs, we must show leadership skills. These leadership skills can come from our emotional intelligence skills—for example, self-awareness, self-management, relationship management, and social awareness. All emotional intelligence skills are needed to be a successful leader. For example, if you are the informal leader for your group project and feel frustrated with response times, you must have the ability to be aware of this emotion and manage it by not yelling at your team member when you see them!

Getting the team to work better together requires social awareness skills, or the ability to understand how actions of one team member may affect another. Finally, relationship management is necessary to manage group conflict and maintain good relationships with your team. As you can see, leadership encompasses all of the emotional intelligence skills we have been discussing throughout the book. Do you think leadership comes natural to some and not to others?

Whether or not there is a “natural leader,” born with a combination of talents and traits that enable a person to lead others, has been a subject of debate across time. In a modern context, we have come to recognize that leadership comes in many form and representations. Once it was thought that someone with presence of mind, innate intelligence, and an engaging personality was destined for leadership, but modern research and experience shows us otherwise. Just as a successful heart surgeon has a series of skill sets, so does a dynamic leader. A television producer must both direct and provide space for talent to create, balancing control with confidence and trust. This awareness of various leadership styles serves our discussion as groups and teams often have leaders, and they may not always be the person who holds the title, status, or role.

Leaders take on the role because they are appointed, elected, or emerge into the role. The group members play an important role in this process. An appointed leader is designated by an authority to serve in that capacity, irrespective of the thoughts or wishes of the group. They may serve as the leader and accomplish all the designated tasks, but if the group does not accept their role as leader, it can prove to be a challenge. As Bruce Tuckman (1965) notes, “storming” occurs as group members come to know each other and communicate more freely, and an appointed leader who lacks the endorsement of the group may experience challenges to his or her authority.

A democratic leader is elected or chosen by the group but may also face serious challenges. If individual group members or constituent groups feel neglected or ignored, they may assert that the democratic leader does not represent their interests. The democratic leader involves the group in the decision-making process and ensures group ownership of the resulting decisions and actions as a result. Open and free discussions are representative of this process, and the democratic leader acknowledges this diversity of opinion.

An emergent leader contrasts the first two paths to the role by growing into the role, often out of necessity. The appointed leader may know little about the topic or content, and group members will naturally look to the senior member with the most experience for leadership. If the democratic leader fails to bring the group together or does not represent the whole group, subgroups may form, each with an informal leader serving as spokesperson.

Is A Leader Always Needed? Substitutes For And Neutralizers of Leadership

Several factors have been discovered that can substitute for or neutralize the effects of leader behavior (see Table 10.1) (Podsakoff et al., 1993; Kerr, 1977; Kerr & Jermier, 1978; Howell & Dorfman, 1981; Pierce et al., 1984). Substitutes for leadership behavior can clarify role expectations, motivate organizational members, or satisfy members (making it unnecessary for the leader to attempt to do so). In some cases, these substitutes supplement the behavior of a leader. Sometimes it is a group member’s characteristics that make leadership less necessary, as when a master craftsperson or highly skilled worker performs up to his or her own high standards without needing outside prompting. Sometimes the task’s characteristics take over, as when the work itself—solving an interesting problem or working on a familiar job—is intrinsically satisfying. Sometimes the characteristics of the organization make leadership less necessary, as when work rules are so clear and specific that workers know exactly what they must do without help from the leader.

Table 10.1: Substitutes for and Neutralizers of Leader Behavior

Leader Behavior Influenced
Supportive or Neutralizer Substitute Leadership Instrumental Leadership
A. Subordinate Characteristics:
1. Experience, ability, training Substitute
2. "Professional" orientation Substitute Substitute
3. Indifference toward rewards offered by organization Neutralizer Neutralizer
B. Task Characteristics:
1. Structured, routine, unambiguous task Substitute
2. Feedback provided by task Substitute
3. Intrinsically satisfying task Substitute
C. Organization Characteristics:
1. Cohesive work group Substitute Substitute
2. Low position power (leader lacks control over organizational rewards) Neutralizer Neutralizer
3. Formalization (explicit plans, goals, areas of responsibility) Substitute
4. Inflexibility (rigid, unyielding rules and procedures) Neutralizer
5. Leader located apart from subordinates with only limited communication possible Neutralizer Neutralizer
Source: Principles of Management

Neutralizers of leadership, on the other hand, are not helpful; they prevent leaders from acting as they wish. A computer-paced assembly line, for example, prevents a leader from using initiating structure behavior to pace the line. A union contract that specifies that workers be paid according to seniority prevents a leader from dispensing merit-based pay. Sometimes, of course, neutralizers can be beneficial. Union contracts, for example, clarify disciplinary proceedings and identify the responsibilities of both management and labor. Leaders must be aware of the presence of neutralizers and their effects so that they can eliminate troublesome neutralizers or take advantage of any potential benefits that accompany them (such as the clarity of responsibilities provided by a union contract). If a leader’s effectiveness is being neutralized by a poor communication system, for example, the leader might try to remove the neutralizer by developing (or convincing the organization to develop) a more effective system.

Followers differ considerably in their focus of attention while at work, thereby affecting the effectiveness of the act of leadership. Focus of attention is an employee’s cognitive orientation while at work. It reflects what and how strongly an individual thinks about various objects, events, or phenomena while physically present at work. Focus of attention reflects an individual difference in that not all individuals have the same cognitive orientation while at work—some think a great deal about their job, their coworkers, their leader, or off-the-job factors, while others daydream (Gardner et al., 1989). An employee’s focus of attention has both “trait” and “state” qualities. For example, there is a significant amount of minute-by-minute variation in an employee’s focus of attention (the “state” component), and there is reasonable consistency in the categories of events that employees think about while they are at work (the “trait” component).

Research suggests that the more followers focus on off-job (nonleader) factors, the less they will react to the leader’s behaviors. Thus, a strong focus on one’s life “away from work” (for example, time with family and friends) tends to neutralize the motivational, attitudinal, and/or behavioral effects associated with any particular leader behavior. It has also been observed, however, that a strong focus on the leader, either positive or negative, enhances the impact that the leader’s behaviors have on followers (Gardner et al., 1987).


  1. Think of a leader you admire and respect. How did this individual become a leader—for example, by appointment, democratic selection, or emergence?
  2. Even if you don’t ever plan to hold a formal title of “leader” or “manager” why is it important for you to understand leadership?


This section is adapted from:

Chapter 12: Be a Leader in Human Relations by Saylor Academy and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensor.

13.7 Substitutes for and Neutralizers of Leadership in Principles of Management OpenStax, Rice University and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Gardner, D. G., Dunham, R., B., Cummings, L. L., & Pierce, J. L. (1989). Focus of attention at work: Construct definition and empirical validation. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 62, 61–77.

Gardner, D. G., Dunham, R., B., Cummings, L. L., & Pierce, J. L. (1987). Focus of attention at work and leader-follower relationships. Journal of Occupational Behaviour, 8, 277–294.

Howell, J. P., & Dorfman, P. W. (1981). Substitutes for leadership: Test of a construct. Academy of Management Journal, 24, 714– 728.

Kerr, S. (1977). Substitutes for leadership: Some implications for organizational design. Organization and Administrative Sciences, 8, 135–146.

Kerr, S., & Jermier, J. M. (1978). Substitutes for leadership: Their meaning and measurement. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 22, 375– 403.

Pierce, J. L., Dunham, R. B., & Cummings, L. L. (1984). Sources of environmental structuring and participant responses. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 3, 214–242.

Podsakoff, P. M., Niehoff, B. P., MacKenzie, S. B., & Williams, M. L. (1993). Do substitutes for leadership really substitute for leadership: An empirical examination of Kerr and Jermier’s situational leadership model. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 54, 1–44.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384–99.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Psychology, Communication, and the Canadian Workplace Copyright © 2022 by Laura Westmaas, BA, MSc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book