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On line book sellers list more than 11,000 books on leadership, by far the largest single category in business and management books. Both refereed and practitioner journals feature articles on leadership, its merits and how to be more effective in this role. The most popular corporate and public executive development programs are leadership programs. Numerous conferences offer us gurus and oracles who showcase the topic or tell their story. Business coaches espouse their ability to enhance their client's leadership effectiveness. The business media profile the most highly visible and successful leaders of the moment. And the press makes hay from the successes or failures of our local and international political, economic and military leaders. Small wonder that visiting Martians might think that we are experiencing a cult of leadership. For it seems that never in our history have we held out such high expectations of our leaders to lead us out of our difficulties, or to lead us into higher performance and a better place. Yet it is quite possible that history may judge this as a period when our attributions of leadership were seriously confounded and when our hopes dominated the reality of our experiences.

Notwithstanding the sound case for leadership, in this article I will present some caveats that may alert us as to the risks of over expecting and over selling leadership as a factor in organizational success and positive work experiences. In making this case I will present four issues for consideration. First, the evidence of the impact of leadership on organizational performance is still in its infancy and claims often outstrip the available evidence. Second, in many situations effective leadership cannot be considered in isolation from effective management. Third, effective leadership is often effective because it is one in a configuration of factors that leads to high performance. And finally, for a number of reasons we need to seriously consider substitutes for leadership.

Until recently our ability to robustly evaluate the impact of leadership on organizational performance has been limited by our research designs and our statistical and analytical techniques. The challenges are many. These include the difficulty of unraveling the impact of leadership from other causal variables, the need for longitudinal data to enable time series analyses, the need for multi level organizational analysis and the availability of techniques such as hierarchical linear modeling to assess the direction and strength of the casual linkages.

What data is available indicates that whilst for example corporate leadership can make a difference, its impact may often be small. One such study by Marianne Bertrand and Antoinette Schoar (2003) indicates that CEOs in Fortune 500 firms accounted for about 5% of their firm's financial performance. But notwithstanding, such studies as this one, and the impressive work of Phil Rosenzweig (2007) of IMD indicate how difficult it is to reliably identify the leadership contribution.

This raises a second issue. Our efforts to identify just one or even a small number of factors that determine organizational success are fraught with risk. Rosenzweig demolishes much of the work of gurus such as Peters and Waterman and Collins and Porras. He highlights how many of the factors in which we are interested are interrelated and many of the factors, such as leadership and culture that we think lead to performance, are more often attributions based on company performance. Rosenzweig's account of Percy Barnevik's abrupt conversion in ABB from rooster to feather duster is a salutary reminder of how writers on leadership so easily confound our understanding. Our reality is that our current attempts to establish the importance of leadership or any other single factor are in their infancy. Accordingly we need to be careful of our claims for leadership.

A third consideration is in part definitional and in part systemic. Many authors, executives and speakers use leadership as a substitute term for management. I would argue that this confounds rather than simplifies our considerations. In addition, what enables many leaders to be effective, management, has taken a poor second place. So let me put the case for how these roles add value in different yet complementary ways acknowledging that there is a grey area in which the role distinction breaks down.

In a recent article Morgan Mc Call (2010) has produced a meta analysis of what constitutes leadership. He defines leadership as: "Creating a context in which other people can reach their full potential in serving the organization's mission. Context is created by the ways a person in a leadership role addresses five demands:

1. Setting and communicating direction: Establishing and communicating the purpose, vision, mission, point of view for your part of the organisation, and creating an architecture such that structure, processes, rewards, and human resource practices are consistent with that direction and each other.

2. Aligning critical constituencies: Through the use of authority, persuasion, negotiation, or other means, making sure that the people and groups necessary to achieving the mission understand it and are aligned with it, and that those who are obstacles to it are dealt with.

3. Developing an executive temperament : Developing the ability and confidence necessary to cope effectively with the pressures, ambiguity, complexity, and frustrations of a leadership role.

4. Setting and living values: Through actions as well as words, conveying and reinforcing what the organisation, and you as a leader and person, believe in and stand for.

5. Growth of self and others: Taking the necessary actions to insure that one's self and one's people continue to learn, grow, and change." p15

If we were to limit management to five contributions they might be:

1. Developing clarity of structure, roles, contributions, and effectiveness of systems and processes

2. Ensuring the adequate resourcing: people, money, information and equipment

3. Commitment to clients, quality, excellence

4. Feedback on performance at all levels, and

5. Accountability

In sum, managers, through their reliance on structure, position descriptions, training, feedback and rewards can ensure compliance to satisfactory performance. Leaders rely more on their own behaviour and attributes together with a greater emphasis on the softer influence of vision and values with the potential to enable volunteers to deliver outstanding performance.

In many organisational roles incumbents are required to contribute as both leaders and managers. A CEO is expected to be both leader and manager. So what becomes critical is first, recognizing that these roles are often interdependent in terms of the effectiveness of an individual's contribution. And second, the issue of determining the right balance of contribution between the two roles. Some organizations may at times be over led and undermanaged or vice versa.

So in sum, there is a risk that we over emphasise the value of the role and contribution of leadership at the expense of effective management. Both are necessary but rarely sufficient.

Finally, we may need to pay increased attention to substitutes for leadership. If we think of how leaders add value, there are other organizational processes and characteristics that can shape human behaviour with similar outcomes. These include the internalisation of company values reflected in a strong cultures that can guide decision making and behaviour, client feedback, rewards and recognition that reinforce appropriate behaviour, stories and documents that communicate direction and strategy, and self leadership that enables individuals to be more pro active in new or complex situations. Because leaders may be physically absent or even ineffective it is important to recognize that we may need to invest in these substitutes. In turn, these considerations serve to remind us that a heavy emphasis and reliance on leadership without the integration and alignment of other organizational systems and processes can increase our vulnerability to leaders who fail.

In conclusion, history records the role and the contributions that are widely attributed to political, military and corporate leaders. Our current global and local political and economic circumstances are such that, not surprisingly, many look to leadership at least as a catalyst for longer term solutions. In our minds leadership is often a major factor in resolving crisis situations, turning around performance, starting up new enterprises and engaging organizational members and clients. Yet the phenomenon of leadership is not as straightforward as many may assume. For those of us who are committed to developing leadership effectiveness it behooves us to move beyond the common attributions that we ascribe to leaders and to continue to explore the complexities of leadership, organisational dynamics and performance. Only as we continue to do this will we better understand the nature, the potential and the limitations of leadership.

Rosenzweig Phil, ( 2007 ) The Halo Effect: how managers let themselves be deceived. London, Pocket Books.

Bertrand, Marianne and Schoar, Antoinette (2003) Managing With Style: the effect of managers on firm policies The Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 2003, Vol. 118 (4), 1169-1208

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