Change-Centred Leadership

April 4, 2010

Numerous studies have differentiated leadership style into two dominant factors. These are often labelled as a concern for people and a concern for task. A newer theory, backed by empirical studies, proposes a third, and change-oriented style.

The division of leadership styles into task-oriented and people-oriented can be traced to work which originally concerned itself with work practices at operational levels within large American organizations. Organisation behaviour texts offer a historical time line from the Ohio State studies of the 1930s, to the later and related management grid of Blake and Mouton. Most studies thereafter found no need to look much further than the two factors. However, a group of Scandinavian researchers has put forward an interesting possibility of a third, and change-centred leadership style.

Blake and Mouton famously proposed that a combination of the two basic factors in a leadership style (‘more of both’) adds value to leadership efforts. Other researchers leaders were later to take a more situational approach. But there has rarely been a challenge to the dominance of the basic two-factor model of leadership style.

The work of Goran Ekvall (pictured above) and his colleague and former student Jouko Arvonen was recently published in English, which will give it more international attention. Their theory is easy to understand. The research first re-examined in detail the reported data from the items of the Ohio questionnaire (SPDQ, LBDQ versions). They found that change-centred leadership had been measurable through the inventories (in such items as ‘tries out new ideas with the group’). But during the original studies, and since, the results gave no statistical support to a third leadership style, favouring change-orientation beyond the two established styles/factors.

The Scandinavians have been replicating the Ohio methodology with mainly Swedish, Finnish, and US organizational samples. Jouko Arvonen, summarizing the work recently reports that over 6000 responses have been collected in five separate studies. Factor analysis revealed from all studies the appearance of an additional, change-centred leadership style, defined in terms of visionary qualities, creativity, action for implementation and risk-taking. He provides a fascinating hypothesis to explain the emergence of change-centred leadership. Arnonen believes that management is increasingly being required to show skills at ‘neo-charismatic’ or transformational leadership . He suggests that the new style has emerged as a contingent consequence of new work challenges.

Further studies will be required to test this idea. However, the concept seems to have been well-tested, is a potential game-changer for studies of leadership style, and offers a proposal for assessing creative leadership.