Substitutes and Neutralizers to Leadership

Contrary to the arguments made throughout leadership may not always be important, A theory of leadership suggest that, in many situations, whatever actions leaders exhibit are irrelevant. Certain individuals, jobs and organizational variables can act as substitutes for leadership or neutralize the leader’s influence on his or her followers.

Neutralizers make it impossible for leader’s behavior to make any difference to followers outcomes. They negate the leader’s influences. Substitutes however, make a leader’s influence not only impossible but also unnecessary. They act as a replacement for the leader’s influence. For instance, characteristics of employees such as their experience, training, professional orientation or indifference toward organizational rewards can substitute for, or neutralize the effect of leadership. Experience and training can replace the need for a leader’s support or ability to create structure and reduce task ambiguity Jobs that are inherently unambiguous and routine or that intrinsically satisfying may place fewer demands on the leadership variable. Organizational characteristics like explicit, formalized goals, rigid rules and procedures and cohesive work group also replace formal leadership.

This recognition that leaders don’t always have an impact on follower outcome should not be that surprising. After all, we have a number of variables – attitudes, personality, ability and group norms, to name but a few that have been documented as having an effect on employee performance and satisfaction. Yet supporters of the leadership concept place an undue burden on this variable for explaining and predicting behavior. It is too simplistic to consider employees as guided to goal accomplishment solely by the actions of their leader. It’s important therefore, to recognize explicitly that leadership is merely another independent variable our overall OB model. In some situations it may contribute a lot to explaining employee productivity, absence turnover satisfaction and citizenship behavior but in other situations it may contribute little toward that end.

The validity of substitutes and neutralizers is controversial. One of the problems is that the theory is very complicated there are many possible substitutes for neutralizers of many different leaders’ behaviors across many different situations. Moreover, sometimes the difference between substitutes and neutralizers is fuzzy. For example, if one is working on a task that’s intrinsically enjoyable. The theory predicts that leadership will be less important because the task itself provides enough motivation. But, does that mean that intrinsically enjoyable tasks neutralize leadership effects, or substitute for them, or both? Another problem that this review points out is that substitutes for leadership (like employee characteristics, the nature of the task, and so forth) matter, but it does not appear that the substitute for or neutralize leadership.

Do people from different cultures make different attribution about their leaders’ charisma? That’s what one recent study attempted to answer.

A team of researchers conducted a study in which individuals from the United States and Turkey read short stories a bout a hypothetical leader. Each story portrayed the leader’s behaviors and the performance of the leader’s company differently. In both cultures individuals believed that the leaders possessed more charisma when displaying behaviors such as promoting the company’s vision and involving subordinates and when the leaders’ company performed well. However, the participants from the United Sates, who are more individualist, fused on the leader’s behavior when attributing charisma. In contrast the participants from Turkey, who are more collectivist, focused on the company’s performance when attributing charisma.

Why do these differences exist? He researchers speculated that people from individualist cultures place more emphasis on the person than on the situation and so they attribute charisma when a leader display traits. People from collectivist cultures, in contrast, place more emphasis in the situation and assume that the leader is charismatic when the company performs well. So, whether others see you as charismatic may in part, depend on what culture you work in.