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Chapter 11 – Page

Chapter 11 - Leadership: Communication Approaches


1. How all group members can perform leadership functions.

2. The ways in which leaders emerge from previously leaderless groups.
3. The importance of group members' perceptions about leadership.
4. How charismatic leaders affect group performance.
5. Gender differences in leadership.


In the last chapter, we described the trait, style, situational, and contingency approaches to leadership. All four have been very influential, and have lead to expansions of our knowledge about such issues as what types of personality leads to people becoming leaders, what type of method leaders should use, and in what situations are particular types of personalities and particular types of leadership methods best.

However, none of the perspectives described in the last chapter take communication into serious consideration. Yet, in the context of group discussion, leadership occurs through the process of communication. Therefore, to have a complete understanding of how leadership works, we also need approaches that tell us what role communication plays in the leadership process. In this chapter, we will consider four approaches to leadership in which communication performs a critical role. We will also talk about whether there are gender differences in leadership.


The functional approach to leadership first appeared at about the same period of time (the late 1940s and early 1950s) that scientists began questioning the trait and style approaches. As we discussed last chapter, some scientists responded to the problems with the trait and style approaches by adopting the situational and contingency perspectives.

As you recall, each of these approaches has a unique perspective on leadership. For instance, the trait approach is concerned with the permanent characteristics of a leader. The style point of view maintains that the method a leader uses is most important. The situational perspective looks for differences in leadership style across different circumstances. Finally, the contingency approach examines leadership by looking at the association of trait and situation. These four points of view all have one thing in common, however. All of them, in the end, are concerned with a particular person in a leadership role.

The functional perspective, in contrast, in concerned with the behaviors of a group. Specifically, the functional approach examines the behaviors that allow the group to reach its goals. In Chapter 8, we discussed how behaviors serve functions that help a group solve its task and maintenance problems. Certain behaviors serve as leadership functions. For instance, leadership functions include actions that serve to help the group perform its task and clarify the group's goals. They also include behaviors that help the group interact effectively and give members social support.

The functional approach maintains that a group need not have only one particular member who performs these leadership functions. Any group member can perform them. This means that any member can lead. If we accept the functional perspective, we have the potential to uncover which behaviors help lead a group toward its goals. These behaviors help the group if at least one member performs them.

For example, a group of mechanics volunteers time to help low-income families repair their cars. They call themselves the Saturday Morning Car-Tuners. For the group to perform their task, members must ensure that the group is organized. Everyone has to know what they are supposed to do to get the cars repaired. In addition, for the group to maintain itself, members must ensure that everyone in the group feels appreciated for their efforts. If not, members may leave the group, and it might not survive.

Bales: The "Equilibrium Problem"

All functionalists make a distinction between task and maintenance behaviors. Some functionalists go even further with the idea. These theorists claim that the demands of task and maintenance leadership are so unique that different people must assume leadership of each. These researchers might say, for example, that one person in the Saturday Morning Car-Tuners should lead the group in repairing cars. However, another person should lead in handling good communication and morale-building within the group. The group should not ask one person to be responsible for both areas.

In Chapter 8, we described the "equilibrium problem." This hypothesis ties in with our present discussion. As you recall, Bales proposed the idea of the equilibrium problem in 1953. He believed that the requirements of the task and maintenance functions in a group are opposed and that too much attention to either causes problems for the other. What the group needs to do is create equilibrium, or balance, between task and maintenance functions.

Also in Chapter 8, we noted one property that could help groups maintain their equilibrium: alternate group discussion between task and maintenance statements. A second property that can help is a division of the major leadership responsibilities. A group with this property will have one person responsible for performing the task leadership functions and another person responsible for the maintenance leadership behaviors. In such a group, one person will assume the role of task leader and will be responsible for making the group work on its task. Unfortunately, because the requirements of the task often conflict with the members' personal goals, this leader will cause resentment to build up among group members. For example, Fred, a member of the Saturday Morning Car-Tuners, has the personal aim of working only on challenging repair problems. He wants to sharpen his skills. The group goal, however, is to work on any car problem, even if it is minor. The task leader must ensure that Fred works on all types of car problems. Fred may become resentful, however, if he rarely gets to work on challenging jobs and instead has to work on any job in order to satisfy the group's task of helping everyone.

The group responds to this tension and resentment by generating a maintenance leader. The maintenance leader has the responsibility of draining the tension from the group. For instance, someone in Fred's group may come up to Fred and praise his work and pass on a compliment from someone Fred has helped. This person would be the maintenance leader of the Saturday Morning Car-Tuners.


In Chapter 8, we discussed Bales's research, in which his groups solved "human relations" problems. After their discussion, the group members rank-ordered one another on five questions:

1 - The extent to which each contributed the best ideas for solving the problem.

2 - The extent to which each did the most to guide the discussion.

3 - The extent to which they liked each other.

4 - The extent to which they disliked each other.

5 - The extent to which each was the group leader.

This allowed Bales to determine for each group which member was the "idea person," which member was the "guidance person," and so on.

Part of the results of this research was reported in Bales (1953), with the rest to be found in Bales and Slater (1955). It revealed that in about half of the cases, members judged their group as having one member leading in "ideas" and a different member doing the most "guidance." In the other half of the groups, the same person was evaluated as performing the most of both task functions. Further, the person judged to be the "group leader" was the same person as the "guidance" specialist 78.6% of the time and the "idea" specialist 59.3% of the time. In either case, these task leaders tended to be the most talkative members of the group.

However, in more than 70 percent of the cases, the "best liked" group member was someone other than the "idea" or "guidance" leader. This member was usually the second of third most talkative member. Further, the "group leader" was also chosen as "best liked" only 14.3% of the time.

Bales believed that there was a clear distinction in his groups between the task leader or leaders (the idea and guidance specialists) and the maintenance leader (the best liked member). This distinction between leaders was not necessarily apparent during a group's first meeting. After the first meeting, members chose the same member as both the "best liked" and as the "idea" leader 64.4% of the time. Thus, in their view, both task and maintenance leadership functions were performed by the same person. However, in subsequent meetings, the functions of task and maintenance became progressively more divided. By the fourth meeting, the same person was evaluated as both "best liked" and best on "ideas" only 10.7% of the time. Similarly, the odds that a group member was chosen as both the "best liked" and as the "guidance" leader fell from 40.6% after the first meeting to 17.9% after the fourth.

Bales thought this occurred because of the tension brought about by the task leader's actions. Remember that according to the equilibrium hypothesis, task work causes tension among members. For Bales, it follows that the person who is believed to be most responsible for that tension, the task leader, would be blamed for that tension and disliked by the other members. In fact, the most talkative member of Bales's groups, who was usually rated either the "idea" or "guidance" leader or both, received the most votes for "disliked member." The group tended to like a different member the most. This person was usually either the second or third most verbally active and tended to be rated low on "ideas." We can consider this liked person the maintenance leader. Thus, Bales found that groups tend to distinguish between the two leaders.

Criticisms of research. Bales concluded from this research that different group members perform different functions. One person behaves as a task leader, and another takes over as the maintenance leader. As described earlier, Bales felt this occurs because the task leader's actions cause tension that can only be relieved by the actions of another person, the maintenance leader. There are however some problems with these conclusions. First, Bales's conclusions about leadership were based on members' ratings of one another. However, Bales did not examine the actual communication that occurred in his groups' discussions to see if, for example, the person judged as the "guidance" leader actually did the most guidance during the discussions. This failure leads to some ambiguity concerning the results. For example, Bales showed that the correlation between the person the group liked best and the person or persons the group considered idea or guidance leaders declined across meetings. But we do not know why. One interpretation of these results is that the group's most well-liked member did less task work as time progressed. A second idea is that the group's most well-liked person did very little task work all along, and as time went on the group liked its task leader less and less. Without an examination of who in the group performed which functions, we have no way of knowing which of these possibilities is correct.

In addition, certain theorists believe that the results of Bales's research were due to his participants being uninterested in the discussion and wanting to leave as quickly as possible. Why would this change Bales's results? By nature, decision-making tasks usually take a long time when members are interested in making a good decision. If we accept the idea that Bales's students did not want to spend time on the discussion, it makes sense that they would resent members who appeared interested in the task. Interested members would make the group take longer to complete the discussion. Thus, the groups did not like the task-oriented members very much.

This idea has led to a more general claim. Researchers have proposed the idea that the more task-oriented group members are, the more they like task-oriented people. Thus, it is not difficult for a task-oriented leader to also become the maintenance leader when the group is interested in its task. Turk (1961) conducted a study that supported this claim. In the study, nursing students participated in decision-making groups considering issues in which they were interested. After the discussion, they rated one another. In this case, the students liked their task leader.

It follows from this idea that it is more likely that people will split up the task and maintenance functions in low task-oriented groups, rather than highly task-oriented ones. For example, it may be that Fred's group of volunteer mechanics is not very interested in repairing cars. Perhaps they simply enjoy getting together to watch television in the garage. If this is true, the task leader may not be popular. The group may not like the head mechanic very much if he or she pushes the group to work on cars. Hence, the group needs another person to make membership enjoyable for the mechanics and handle the maintenance side of group activity.

The resulting corollary to the idea above is that highly task-oriented groups do not require two people to handle task and group maintenance behaviors. This, however, does not invalidate the distinction we make between task and maintenance functions. It also does not discredit the further distinction between two types of task functions, substantive (generating and evaluating ideas) and procedural (moving the group along the decision-making process). Each still has quite different requirements. For instance, it may be true that the head mechanic in Fred's group is the leader for both task and maintenance behaviors. However, he or she cannot lead both behaviors the same way. The head mechanic might need to be tough and organized when it comes to the task of repairing cars but joking and kind when it comes to giving praise to the members.

Benne and Sheats: Functional Roles

Back in Chapter 8, we discussed Benne and Sheats's (1948) essay listing the functional roles that group members can perform during discussion. This is perhaps the clearest statement of the functional approach to leadership. At that time, as described earlier, most researchers concentrated on the position of "group leader." In contrast, the authors argued that "leadership" consists of a set of functions helping groups perform their tasks satisfactorily and getting along well with one another. Members share leadership to the extent that they perform these functions. A group member is performing task leadership when she or he is performing either substantive roles, such as the initator, opinion giver, and elaborator, or procedural roles such as the coordinator, orienter, and procedural technician. Similarly, a group member is performing maintenance leadership when he or she performs roles such as the encourager, harmonizer, and compromiser.

As we discussed at that time, Benne and Sheats did not make any claims about which roles are the most important or when in the discussion process particular roles need to performed. We believe that there is perhaps a presumption that the more that members perform task and maintenance roles, the more successful the group will be. Other functional theorists would dispute this presumption. Rauch and Behling (1984) argued that when a group's task is very clear, the group does not need very much task leadership and gets upset if their leader is too task-oriented. Task performance suffers as a result. Further, they felt that while a moderate amount of maintenance leadership encourages group members and helps them perform their tasks better, a lot of maintenance leadership can be too much of a good thing. When group members perceive continued task leadership to be redundant, they can become dissatisfied.

Ancona and Caldwell: External Functions

No functional theorist doubts that we must make a distinction between task and maintenance functions in groups. Some functional theorists however believe there are other types of functions that are as important as task and maintenance. Ancona and Caldwell (1988) claimed that groups within formal organizations also have to be concerned with their relationships with other groups and individuals outside of the group. These other groups and individuals may be part of the organization, or they may be outside of it. In either case, there are leadership functions involved in maintaining these relationships. Ancona and Caldwell called these "external functions."

Based on extensive interviews with members of organizational groups, Ancona and Caldwell found four basic types of external functions:

1 - Scout activities. These are involved in bringing into the group both the information and resources that the group needs to perform its task. Scout functions include learning about the environment in which the group does its work, getting information that is relevant either to the group's current task or possible later tasks, and getting feedback about the group's performance.

2 - Ambassador activities. These are involved in getting information and resources from the group out to other groups or individuals. Ambassador functions include opening up channels with these outside parties, informing them about the group's progress on its tasks, coordinating with the outside parties when a task is being performed together with them, and persuading or motivating the other parties to do what the group wants them to do.

3 - Sentry activities. These are involved in controlling the amount or type of information and resources that come into the group. The group can either let information and resources enter the group as is, modify it in some way, or keep all or part of it out of the group.

4 - Guard activities. These are involved in controlling the amount or type of information and resources that leave the group. The group can either deliver it immediately, decide to wait to deliver it until some later time, or refuse to deliver it at all.

Ancona and Caldwell provide some hypotheses about when the group will perform more or less of these functions. At the beginning of the task, the group needs to perform scout and ambassador activities in order to determine the requirements of the task, establish relationships with important outside parties, and obtain needed resources. During the performance of the task, the group needs to perform sentry and guard activities in order to protect the group from becoming overloaded with unnecessary and distracting information and resorces. At the completion of the task, the group returns to scout and ambassador activities so as to deliver their completed work to the parties that need it and get feedback about their performance.

General Conclusions: Functional Approach

As described earlier, the functional approach to leadership provides a unique view of the leadership process. Other approaches view leadership in terms of a person taking on the leadership role. In contrast, the functional perspective accounts for leadership in terms of the behaviors that help a group perform its task, maintain its cohesiveness, and interact with its environment. As anyone can perform those behaviors, every member can participate in its group's leadership.

Having said that, it should be clear from the research findings we have discussed that the majority of leadership functions are usually performed by a minority of the members of the group. In fact, in a lot of cases, one member does the bulk of both the task and maintenance leadership functions. Sometimes that member has been assigned or elected to the leadership role, and so it is not surprising to find that member actually leading the group. However, in many cases, groups operate without an assigned or elected leader. When one member comes to perform the leadership functions in a previously "leaderless" group, we call that member the group's emergent leader. Bales's groups were an example of leaderless groups in which task and maintenance leaders emerged over time.

Research about the process by which leaders emerge from previously leaderless groups can be said to comprise its own perspective toward leadership. We will turn to an examination of this approach next.


The "Zeitgeist Theory"

Earlier, we described the philosophical view of history called the "Great Man Theory of Leadership." It implied that gifted people determine history. The emergent approach to leadership is a descendant of a proposal that conflicted with the "Great Man" point of view. It has come to be known as the "Zeitgeist Theory of Leadership." Zeitgeist is a German word meaning "the spirit of the time." This competing theory was that history determines leadership, not vice versa. Different places and times have unique requirements for their leaders. People can assume leadership positions only if their talents meet the requirements of a particular time period. If conditions change, there will be different requirements, and other people will become leaders.

According to the Zeitgeist Theory, Julius Caesar and Napoleon were not inherently great men. Instead, they were fortunate. Fate placed them in circumstances in which they had relevant talent to offer. Place them somewhere else in history, and they would not have been leaders. For instance, place them in early twentieth-century India. Would Napoleon's military talents have served the people of India best at that time? India was not looking to create an army and conquer foreign lands at that time. Instead, India needed a person whose ideas were very different from Napoleon's. As we know, Mohandas Gandhi was the leader whose talents were uniquely able to organize the people of India. He found a method whereby people without military strength could effectively work toward the changes they wanted.

Advance in Leadership Theory

As with the functional point of view, the emergent approach came to prominence in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the problems with the trait and style approaches became evident. As with the situational approach, advocates of the emergent perspective claim that the group's situation determines the group's leadership. However, whereas the situational approach is concerned with the style elected and assigned leaders should adopt in different situations, the emergent approach is concerned with predicting who will emerge as leader in a previously leaderless group and explaining why some people emerge rather than others.

Advocates of both the situational and emergent approaches understood that a situation consists of two parts. One part is the task that the group must perform. The other part includes the needs and desires of the group members themselves. Hence, they realized that group members themselves help to determine who their leader is. This concept was a significant advance over earlier approaches to the study of leadership. Both the trait and style approaches did see that leaders influence group members. However, both ignored the possibility that members may influence their leader in return. Scientists who held the emergent point of view came to an even further realization. They saw that even leaders with strong claims for power must receive their groups' approval in order to be effective. These claims for power include expertise, legitimacy, and the like. These realizations on the part of scientists who held the emergent viewpoint opened three new avenues of thought.

1. Leader emergence. The trait and style approaches limited their inquiries to the ways in which appointed leaders affected group behavior. In contrast, the emergent methodology shifted attention to the manner in which leaders emerge from previously leaderless groups. In other words, the researchers wanted to know the ways in which leaders gain influence over other group members.

2. Method for assuming leadership. Research was performed to discover any differences between the behavior of groups with assigned leaders, elected leaders, and emergent leaders.

3. Deviance and leader acceptance. Theorists attempted to describe how a leader can still be accepted by a group after he or she has performed deviant actions.

The research using the emergent approach involved all three of these issues.

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