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Leadership, Decision-Making and Self-Managed Teams


Leadership style, the decision-making process, and self-managed teams collectively add up to the canvas making up organizations behaviour (Daft, 2007). The environment in which organizations operate is dynamic and presents a variety of threats and opportunities for the organization existence (Busemeyer & Townsend, 1993). An analysis of the efficacy of leadership style, the decision-making process and the effectiveness of self-managed teams builds up to the understanding of the whole organization structure.

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A review of the relevant theories fronted to explain the above artefacts of the organization leads to the rumination of the interdependence and the complex nature of an organization and forms the foundation in the knowledge of organizational leadership for success. This paper individually examines self-managed teams, effective leadership theories, and decision-making theories then summarize the evaluation with a discussion that links the three artefacts in forming the organization canvas.

Empowered Self-Managed Teams

Self-Managed Team (SMT) theories evaluate the effectiveness of these teams in terms of their leadership capabilities. The theories observe SMT from an effective leadership perspective and therefore offer pragmatic explanations of how these teams lead themselves as autonomous units of the organization and how the coordination of activities happens in the team (Stoker, 2008). Self-Managed teams rely on individual performance to produce desired results. Their composition, therefore, plays an important role in ensuring the cohesiveness of the team and the delivery of goal-oriented actions (Millward, Banks, & Riga, 2010). Self-Managed team theories further examine the relationship between team leader behaviour in coaching and directive as well as a delegation (Stoker, 2008).

With the emphasis laid on the importance of individual performance, the method used to increase individual effectiveness comes out as a major factor examined in self-managed team theories (Silverman & Propst, 1996). In their description, the theories state that a coaching structure best serves a self-managed team since the SMT does not require a directive leadership also known as initiating structure (Stoker, 2008).

Theories of SMT and studies analyse the leadership structure and outcomes in terms of the conduct of the team leader toward other team members. The theories in question implicitly accept that all team members are homogenous in their reaction to certain leader behaviour type (Stoker, 2008). A study by Stoker, (2008) on leadership and individual member characteristics of the SMT combined the role of the leader in the team and that of members in its analysis to find out if team leadership is a fad when team performance is considered (Flory, 2005).

The findings of the empirical study conducted by Stocker (2008) indicate that although theories suggested that team leaders should be detached from the routine running of their teams and only obtain feedback, initiative leadership reduces team ambiguity and uncertainty. The overall assumption that team effectiveness depends only on the leader and the team members is erroneous (Druskat & Pescosolido, 2002). Individual team members are not homogenous, as assumed to be by SMT theories, instead, each individual respond to a given leadership style uniquely.

Individuals in a team learn tacitly to follow the common goals of the team by continued reinforcement embodied in individual characteristics of their leader or that of other members in the team (Stoker, 2008). Stoker (2008) brings out the importance of the team tenure variable in influencing SMT efficacy. The author notes that leadership styles and SMT effectiveness do not take a simple relationship; leadership is operative when it occurs in tandem with team tenure of each member. Furthermore, for teams with short tenures, initiating structure leadership style is paramount while for teams enjoying long tenure the leadership style should assume a coaching role (Stoker, 2008).

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Effective Leadership Theories

In this section on the effectiveness of leadership theories, this paper examines the analysis of various theories by Yukl (1999) in the essay of current conceptions of effective leadership. The limitation of transformational and charismatic leadership theories is in their simplistic two-factor models, their neglect of relevant traits, their dyadic focus, obsession with heroic leadership, and too much reliance on feeble analytic methods (Rozell & Scroggins, 2010).

According to Yukl (1999), the dichotomy of leadership, theories are insightful but they encourage the stereotyping of individual leaders. Particular leadership theories include the task-oriented versus relationship-oriented leadership that has failed to support empirically the notion that effective leaders score highly on both dimensions. The high-high theory is a refined version of the task and relationship-based theory and it has not undergone adequate testing to prove its versatility (Yukl, 1999). The common practice of studying leadership styles based on the task or relationship orientation using questionnaires fails to capture subtle and tacit traits of the leader: visioning, symbolic behaviours, and meaning-management by leaders.

The second leadership theory employing a dichotomous description is autocratic versus participative leadership. This theory gained its prominence from the 1950s to the 1970s similar to the task versus relationship leadership theory (Yukl, 1999). Research into the two leadership styles in this theory mainly failed as a result of using the wrong approach in classifying autocratic or participative styles. While power-sharing is important, the division of the extent of power-sharing into two extremes does bring out the complex leadership process. There exist situational contingencies that affect the preparedness, ability and motivation of subordinates to participate and these conditions are when not looked into providing error sources in study findings that promote the argument that effective leaders should be highly participative (Yukl, 1999). The correct way of analysing participative leadership is to combine it with other types of behaviours depending on the situation of application.

The third dichotomous effective leadership theory is leadership versus management. This theory considers leadership and management as mutually exclusive processes where leaders are change-oriented and look at the long-term effectiveness of the organization while managers are concerned with the short-term efficiency of operations. Yukl (1999) notes that these theories assume that manager profiled people are unable to inspire or lead major changes while those with leader profiles cannot accept existing strategies and are always seeking to bring long term change.

However, the effectiveness of a leader type or manager type profiled person in leading lies in situational variables that determine how optimally the mix of behaviours of the two types should occur. Actions that promote higher efficiency are achievable by actions that reduce the flexibility of changing strategies to work in newer environments of threats and opportunities. On the other hand, adaptation is achievable by changing strategy, structure, and work processes and this leads to a reduction in the short-term efficiency due to their resource and time demand implications.

The antagonistic nature of the two approaches, it is difficult to establish an appropriate balance of leadership traits and style based on the theory of leader versus manager that will lead to a boost of the effectiveness of the leader. The antagonism should not propel the stereotyping of the opposite nature of leaders and managers that isolates the analysis from empirical research in the subject (Yukl, 1999).

The fourth dichotomous theory is transformational versus transactional leadership that uses the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire to measure traits defining each leadership style. According to the theory, transformational leadership includes charisma, motivation, and intellectual stimulation while transactional leadership hold the characteristics of contingent reward behaviour, a passive management style and an active management style (Yukl, 1999).

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Yukl (1999) has identified task behaviours, specific relationship behaviours, and a given type of change-oriented behaviours as key omissions in the MLQ scale that make it less effective in evaluating leadership effectiveness. Research using MLQ faces difficulties of controlling the effects of tacit traits and instead any positive correlation obtained in the research attributes to the behaviours measured (Yukl, 1999). The theory describes transformational leaders as charismatic and attributes their effectiveness to their charisma; however, Yukl (1999) disputes the claim by survey evidence that showing a large number of successful leaders are no more charismatic than their subordinates do. Therefore, the reader wonders, on what aspect of charisma does MLQ measure?

Leadership theories have concentrated on the description of the process at a dyadic level and therefore have based their descriptions on how to develop a co-operative and trusted relationship with a subordinate as well as practices of motivating the subordinates. Group level conceptualization of leadership looks at the social system moving beyond the two-person leader-follower approach. In this approach, the organization and the group level processes make up the overall description of the leadership style (Daft, 2007).

The essence of leadership lies in helping their organizations to adapt to changing environmental threats and opportunities. Much of research into transformational leadership base their discussion on a heroic use of power to overcome resistance and influence followers and not how the resistance encountered by the organization has contributed to the improvement of decisions that influence change in the organization (Yukl, 1999). Charismatic leadership theories exemplify the stronger bias on heroic leadership as they describe attributes that increase the leader’s influence and leave out descriptions on how given qualities simultaneously weaken or strengthen the leader. To understand organizational leadership perfectly, heroic conceptualization in the charismatic and transformational theories need replacement with a shared and reciprocal process (Yukl, 1999).

If new paradigms for studying leadership are to succeed, they need to diverge from using superficial methods that have led to the bias and incomprehensive description that has befallen the theories of past decades as examined in this paper. Leadership needs studying in the context of the cultural environment of the organization and the people making up the organization. The effectiveness of foreign nations’ leaders to lead in their host country depends on their ability to understand their role as viewed by their followers (Subrramaniam, 2010). In addition to examining cultural aspects, comprehensive leadership theory must eliminate male chauvinistic characteristics. The synergistic leadership theory offers a beneficial way that determines whether the preciseness of an individual success arises because of the organization structure or individual abilities. The theory, therefore, extends its benefits to the selection process of organizational leaders (Irby, Brown, Duffy, & Trautman, 2001).

Effective Decision-Making

The heterogeneous nature of alternatives forms the basis of making any decision. A core principle in all decision-making theories is utility maximization (Argyris, 1976). A simplification of the classification of decision-making theories leads to two broad categories of outcome-oriented approach theories and process-oriented approach theories (Zeleny, 1975)

.The outcome-oriented approach includes normative decision analysis theory and single and multi-attribute utility theory that centre their analysis on decision outcome and correct prediction of the outcome (Zeleny, 1975). Therefore, their view is that is a person can predict the outcome of a decision then the person must already possess the knowledge of the process of making the decision. On the other hand, the process-oriented approach encompasses normative and prescriptive features but does not a reverse causal linkage of knowing how decisions are made from the knowledge of how decisions should be made. In the process-oriented approach, if a person knows the process they can predict the outcome of the decision process (Zeleny, 1975).

Organizational environment is usually uncertain and leaders make various decisions to steer their organization to the best adaptable way known. Decision theories aim to evaluate the behaviours of decision-makers during the processes of making the decisions and theories of decision-making under uncertainty well represent these behaviours because they capture hidden traits.

According to the decision field theory, when confronted with a difficult personal decision, anticipation, and evaluation occurs for all possibilities of action consequences. The number of consequences examined is large and not all incorporate into the final resolve. A decision-maker painstakingly retrieves compares and integrates the comparison for a period without taking any action until one preference stands out as the strongest and catapults the required action. The theory formalizes the above process in a computational structure that can be analysed mathematically (Busemeyer & Townsend, 1993).

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Strategic decision-making processes become political when they encompass decisions with tentative repercussions, different views of actors and hierarchical resolution (Eisenhardt & Bourgeois III, 1988). In an examination of the political influence on decision-making, Eisenhardt and Bourgeois III (1998) noted that even though conflict is the main reason behind political influence in decision making the organizational power structure also plays a key role.

Where centralized power structures favour politicking to influence key policy decision and restrict information flow to lower power levels while decentralized structures facilitate easy flow of information and limit the need to politicize decisions. Organization leaders, top management, and self-managed teams face similar types of conflicts of decision-making. These are; goal conflict, policy conflict and interpersonal disagreements (Eisenhardt & Bourgeois III, 1988).

All attempt to analyse decisions and the process of making them should note that the decision making process is a dynamic process and cannot be captured in a single formulation such as a decision tree, decision table, a single mathematical formula function or even by simple mechanistic artefacts (Zeleny, 1975). There are three stages of the decision making processes namely; pre-decision, decision, and post-decision stages. The stages are interdependent and each stage consists of partial decisions that also have three staged processes (Zeleny, 1975).

The ignorance of linguistic conventions in decision-making theories occurs because the decision examination occurs in the abstraction of social interaction that happens between the parties involved in the decision (Peacock, 2006). An examination on the decision-making process and its effectiveness should not ignore the importance of language. According to Peacock (2006), the decision-making happens in the social interaction realm and so that their empirical study and theoretical investigation should incorporate, the context of the decision made to come up with an adequate understanding.

Discussion on the interrelationship of effective leadership, effective decision making and empowered self-managed teams

The process of leading involves making decisions irrespective of the leadership style embodied by the leader (Argyris, 1976). Self-managed teams have explicit leadership structures or a decentralized leadership structure however; the lack of a leadership position does not exempt these teams from making decisions. The similarity of effective leadership in an organization and self-managed team leadership occurs when dichotomy leadership theory is used.

Unfortunately, the simplistic evaluation of the leadership style in organizations and self-managed teams has inherent errors in its interpretation and does not offer an all-inclusive understanding of the leader effectiveness. This paper has expanded the importance of involving other factors that affect the subordinate has or team member’s view of their leader such that it is not entirely dependent on the imposition of fellowship to the leader that raises a heroic fad in the leadership theories (Flory, 2005).

The transformational leadership theory stands out as the most inclusive of the various factors that shape up the individual and organizational environment. The theory’s strengths lie in the inclusion of how a leader responds to the human needs of their subordinates as defined in the Abraham Maslow’s psychology theory of the hierarchy of human needs (Millward, Banks, & Riga, 2010). By considering the response of leaders to their subordinates’ issues, the theory becomes applicable to self-managed team leadership whose effectiveness depends on the team tenure of individual members. In this view, an effective transformational leader will be flexible to offer initiative structure leadership as a response to short-tenured team members and coaching style leadership for long-tenured team members.


To sum up, decision-making theories evaluate the process of decision making in terms of predicting the outcome or evaluating the process undertaken by the decision-maker. Decision-making forms a key component of analysing the behaviour of effective leaders and self-managed teams because it brings out the tacit traits of leadership that may be left out by the analysis done based on dichotomous leadership theories as discussed by Yukl (1999). The revelation that any decision includes other minor decision processes aids in the understanding of the social interaction system that leaders and their subordinates or team members participate in while deliberating on consequences of their decisions, behaviour, and actions toward each other.


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Zeleny, M. (1975). Multiple criteria decision making. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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