Getting Your Ducks in a Row


Every year in August, I write new course outlines, with objectives, tasks, roles and deadlines identified for students. The university requires it and students expect it. From a leadership perspective, this is known as creating initiating structure. (In the real world, this is known as getting your ducks in a row).

Initiating structure is “the degree to which a leader concentrates on group goal attainment. The leader clearly defines and organizes his or her role and the roles of followers, stresses standard procedures, schedules the work to be done, and assigns employees to particular tasks.” (Johns & Saks, 2011, p. 291). Initiating structure is one aspect of transactional leadership (that is leadership that is about exchange of benefits between leaders and followers). Transactional leaders also use “contingent reward”, where they provide benefits, rewards, special treatment and public compliments to followers who demonstrate desired behaviours.

In the past few years, leadership researchers have been focused on the “new leadership”, often called transformational leadership, where the leader focused on inspiration, individualize consideration, charisma and intellectual stimulation. We hear that the old way of leading is dead, that it doesn’t work.

But in fact, in order to be effective leaders we need to have both transformation and transactional approach. This is what Bruce Avolio calls “Full Range Leadership”. Avolio suggests that leaders who provide a clear path along with contingent rewards develop credibility with their followers, if they are consistent, and deliver on their promises over time. This creates trust amongst followers, who then are more open to transformational style of leadership.

It isn’t enough to give people a vision and tell them to go chase it. As a leader, you need to provide enough direction, based on the team’s skill level and knowledge, to ensure that they can move forward confidently. Followers need structure, in order to avoid chaos. Chaos can be demoralizing, and result in less than optimal performance. You need to provide just enough structure, support, training and constructive feedback to ensure that they are successful, but not too much structure, which can stifle creativity, innovation and motivation. In the pursuit of the new leadership style, we need to remember not to throw out parts of the old style that work. So get your ducks in a row.

Sources: Johns & Saks. (2011). Organizational Behaviour: Understanding and Managing Life at Work (8th ed.). Pearson: Toronto.

Avolio, B., (2011). Full Range Leadership Development (2nd ed.). Sage: Thousand Oaks, California.


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