Leadership

#Leadership: Too much of a good thing?

My mom told me this over forty years ago, but somehow it took until 2010 for management researchers to find out that too much of a good thing, isn’t a good thing – known as the TMGT effect. These researchers found that too much of certain things can actually cause negative outcomes in areas such as strategic planning, leadership development, human resources management, new venture planning.  Essentially after a certain point, these activities tend to lead to increased waste, lack of impact or increased risk, all of which result in declining performance.

Recently we’ve been hearing a great deal about transformational leadership, leadership that has a softer, more supportive approach, designed to support and develop followers. Transformational leadership was considered an alternative to transactional leadership.

Transformational leadership includes four dimensions: Idealized influence (charisma), Inspirational motivation (high standards + high commitment), Intellectual stimulation (encouraging innovation + creativity), Individualized consideration (support + development).  Research has shown a slew of positive aspects of transformational leadership.  Which is great. But too much of a good thing…

Bruce Avolio, one of the leading researchers in transformation leadership suggests that we need transactional and transformational leadership to be effective. “without the more positive forms of transactional leadership, such as setting expectations and goals, as well as monitoring performance, leaders and those led would be limited in their ability to succeed” (p. 49) Essentially transactional leadership is a set of tools designed to provide followers with clear, explicit direction.

He notes that one of the most important aspects of team development was the ability to clearly define roles, responsibilities and outcomes. “it’s not what you tell them, it’s what they understand is required of them that really counts” (p. 13).

Thus, full range leadership uses tools from many places, from transformational, transactional, authentic and servant leadership. The key for leaders is to understand how and when to most effectively use these tools. Emotional support, inspiration and motivation without clarity of roles or expectations will result in frustration.  Clarity of roles and outcomes without support and motivation will result in lack of commitment and engagement. Either way, it doesn’t work.  Thus, we have the TMGT effect in action.

Perhaps one of the reasons we have so much difficulty with developing leaders is that we don’t just lead. We have to agonize, reflect, go to training sessions. There is evidence that leadership interventions do have a modest positive impact (Alvolio, 2011). But the broader question is why so modest? Why can’t we get any better at this? Perhaps we should be thinking about the TMGT effect.

Alvolio, B. (2011). Full range leadership development. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Pierce, J. & Aguinis, H. (2011). The too-much-of-a-good-thing effect in management. Journal of management. DOI: 10.1177/0149206311410060
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