Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology > Research & Publications > TIP > TIP Back Issues > 2017 > October


Volume 55     Number 2    October 2017      Editor: Tara Behrend

Meredith Turner
/ Categories: 552

Leadership Education in the Digital Age: Building and Managing a Set of Professional Alliances

Julio Canedo, University of Houston-Downtown; Steven Ginsburg,Metrus Group; Miriam Grace, Boeing Company; George Graen, UIUC (Ret.); and William Schiemann, Metrus Group

Why Managers Cannot Lead All in Their Teams

In view of the recent discussions of the scientist–practitioners gap in TIP, we would like to alert our practitioners to important findings that research: prescribed behaviors for leaders from classic leadership theories (transformational leadership theory, Kouzes-Posner leadership theory, Ohio State University leadership theory) were unrelated to follower performance unless the proper states of three big mediating conditions were first established. The big 3 mediating conditions should be no surprise to our fellow practitioners, because they have seen the unfortunate frustration of both leaders and followers when these necessary conditions are bypassed.

The big 3 beliefs of all followers about their leader necessary to instill the mediating conditions are: Followers must believe their leader is (a) competent, (b) trustworthy, and (c) benevolent in working with them, and followers must believe their leader reciprocates and believes the same about them.  Once these beliefs are established, the prescribed leader behavior becomes related to follower performance.  A psychometrically sound measure of the state of the necessary variables is available from the authors without charge (Graen & Schiemann, 2013).  In addition, methods for CEOs, managers, and HRMs to meet these conditions are described in the leadership literature recommended (Graen & Cañedo, 2017).

Given these findings, we report in this paper on the necessity to supersede our traditional leadership education and training programs to make them compatible with emergent science and art. We concluded the following  from our 2-year review of 21st century leader–follower alliance:  (a) Necessary  conditions have been identified which together mediate the relationship between prescribed leader beliefs and communications and later follower performance; (b) current prescriptive protocols need to be changed to focus on establishing and maintaining the big 3 variables, and (c) clients need to be made aware of the harm possible without these necessary mediators (Graen & Cañedo, 2017). 

Leadership education is a broad field of understanding the (a) evolution, (b) nature, and (c) future of the uniquely human process of cocreating the big 3 necessary conditions.  In general, methods prescribed to meet these necessary conditions involve education to appreciate the larger context of leaders and followers in teams and coached practice to build confidence in the new protocols.  With teams and networks of these alliances, leaders may multiply follower collaborative performance and happiness (Sparrowe & Liden, 2005).  We feel it is a fulfilling growth experience to be a follower of a big 3 leader, and it’s too important to be left to amateurs.  It’s an exciting time to be in leadership education. 

Recent History

The state of leadership research by the end of the last century was struggling with a suspected “missing-link.”  For example, research established proper practice of transformational leadership theory was only effective for a minority of a team, as demonstrated by later follower performance (Hollander, 2012; Riggio & Ono 2000).  The supporters of transformational theory suggested that their missing link was how “authentic” or “real” the followers described their leaders to be (Bass & Riggio, 2006).  Unfortunately, psychology cannot find an acceptable measure of a leader’s true self or soul to compare with observed behavior (Hollander, 2012).  Other constructs with acceptable operational definitions were proposed as the missing mediator (Campbell, 2012; Gottfredson & Aguinis, 2016).  The latter study performed a mega-analysis of 3,327 studies involving 930,349 observations.  This analysis was a comparative structure equation study of meta-analyses.  The tested mediators were leader–member exchange, organizational citizen behavior, procedural justice, role ambiguity, role conflict, overall job satisfaction, trust in leader, and satisfaction with leader.  The final results indicated the best fitting mediator was leader–member exchange quality.  After this breakthrough investigation, we asked the question: What are the implications for leadership education and best practice?  This paper begins to answer this question.

Formal and Expected Employment Contracts and Interpersonal Alliances

We think the basic concepts to be identified, understood, and taught are part of a network system yielding the leader–follower alliance system of protocols.  Briefly identifying the differences between the more important contributors would include (a) legal employment contract, (b) psychological employment contract, and (c) LMX-alliance.  These three concepts may be confused and need to be distinguished.  An employment contract is a legally binding agreement between an organization and an applicant describing their exchange relationship of performing satisfactorily on a job and the compensation paid.  In contrast, a psychological employment contract contains the hopes and dreams of expected outcomes not included explicitly in the formal agreement.  Employees may become dissatisfied when the realized outcomes do not include their hoped-for items.  A leader–member two-person exchange alliance is an agreement to collaborate on protecting and serving a team in exchange for professional mentoring of the follower by the leader.  Such an alliance is independent of the formal employment contract between a follower and an organization and the psychological employment contract between an employee and an idealized employer.

Expanded Realistic Model of Project Team Performance

The traditional 20th century model of the leadership scenario focused on the relationship between leader influence attempts on a team and team performance.  The characteristics of actors, behavior, and context were variable from one situation to another.  The theory apparently applied to all leaders and teams performing all projects in any context.  However, the relationship of interest was found to apply only to a minor proportion of team members.  The more realistic 21st century model has an enlarged scenario including (a) CEO delegating a project with strategic implications to (b) a responsible executive who delegates the operation to (c) a team with a (d) leader and (e) an executive team coach.  The executive is responsible for meeting the requirements for the proper use of a project team (Hackman & Wageman, 2005).  The new model assumes that team performance may be influenced for good or ill by all the actors.  Realistic project teams typically contain a mixture of LMX-alliances (leadership) and command and control (position power) relationships.  These complex team scenarios need to be analyzed by professionals for training and development needs (Steiber, 2011).

New Team Deliverables

Instructing the 21st century model of project team leadership development with its big 3 mediating variables may result in a more productive team in terms of (a) improvements in an organization’s sales volume, (b) annual growth in sales, (c) sales volume of new accounts, (d) market share, and (e) number of new products sold (Gottfredson & Aguinis, 2016).  Operationally the missing link of achieving leader–member interpersonal big 3 alliances is assessed by the quality of interpersonal respect of competence, trust in character, and benevolence of a relationship measured by “LMX-TEAM” (Graen & Schiemann, 2013).  The above company-level outcomes of standard unit improvements were measured by the LMX-A, and estimates were shown for four different interventions.  The most positive outcomes were for (1) initiating structure with the highest gains, followed by (2) consideration, (3) transformational leadership, and (4) contingent rewards in that order.  These are very strong, practical results.  The study continues with the megaconfirmation that a successfully negotiated interpersonal leadership alliance is a necessary condition, which must be established, as indicated by agreement between leader and member independently, on the LMX-A measure (Gottfredson & Aguinis, 2016). 

This is probably the necessary missing link in our leadership theories:  Without an alliance agreement, the theories of leader incentive such as transformational conversion, transactional contingent rewards, consideration, and structuring do not relate to follower performance for all.  This means that offers of better conditions do not relate to follower performance because the offers are perceived as lacking competence or trustworthiness or benevolence or at least one of the big 3 conditions.  Students of leadership need to understand the circumstance and problem-solving competence of leaders planning to cocreate with followers their best customized team.  Becoming part of an active, supportive, psychologically safe, and fulfilling leadership team with collaboration from both passive and active peers seems to be an experience worthy of good feelings and fond memories.

New Workplace Experience (NWX) Context

The findings outlined in this paper should not be surprising, given the increasing need for advanced talent management innovations required to create and sustain a talent pipeline for difficult to find and harder to keep knowledge-worker professionals (Graen & Grace, 2015a, 2015b).  Workplace culture has emerged as a defining element for competitive differentiation in the global talent marketplace, driving the need for a New Workplace Experience (NWX), as described by the editors of the Academy of Management (AoM) Journal (Gruber, de Leon, George, & Thompson, 2015).  The context that the Journal editors describe for this new behavior is holistic in its scope and includes “ organizational design and related incentives and management procedures; the task and associated business process design; the support tools and information services that enable the execution of the task; the physical and virtual environment in which the task takes place; the internal interactions between employees within a business or organizational function; as well as between functions and the extended enterprise and its partners and customers, and the organizational culture and communications and human resource support programs” (p. 4).  What is missing is the required leader behavior that has the power to transform human relationships and can make the promise of a new workplace experience authentic: the LMX-Alliance Agreement.

Executive Team Coach (ETC)

Executive coaching may improve the development of agreement between members and leaders regarding what each is authorized to do, the dynamic performance priorities, the budget, latitude, the rules of engagement, communications, and the quality of alliances (Fairhurst & Uhl-Bien, 2012).  Disagreements on these issues may lead to problems of follower performance and team disappointment.  As the team priorities change and signals are missed, teams fall into chaos. Coaches can provide the trustworthy monitor, mentor, and cheerleader for the entire team.  This service may be developed in house or subcontracted.  The mission of executive team coaches is to instruct a project team on clear alliance agreement and the stages of moving followers from strangers to associates to junior partners and to finally shape the team for performance.  Coaches may contribute substantially to winning teams (Weer, DiRenzo & Shipper, 2015).  This means all are valuable assets and trustworthy partners.  Coaches can supply communications from followers to executives for clear recognition of needed priorities.  The unfortunate performance management practice of quarterly feedback is a failure (Corporate Leadership Council, 2012) and needs to be replaced by continuous performance feedback and effective executive coaching.

Leadership Educators

Some important implications for practitioners include the following:

  1. Our traditional model is obsolete.
  2. The 21st century theory is built on the very rock of the LMX-alliance.
  3. Both leader and follower scripts, roles and norms, and computer applications need to be internalized through proper education at the bachelors and master levels.
  4. In addition, the support scripts, roles and norms of CEOs, project executives, and executive coaches need to be included in the scope of study.
  5. Knowledge of the design and development of effective and engaging ecologies need to be studied.
  6. Practitioners in their field need to learn the facts and instruct them with the understanding of the recommendations and protocols.
  7. Early and continuous attention is needed for recent hires employing development theory to enable Millennials to mature professionally. They are the future.
  8. Design and develop new Millennial-effective people systems, e.g., new age performance management systems.
  9. Retrain existing and new leaders in the new theory and practice.
  10. Commit to the leader–follower alliance system for the long term.
  11. Celebrate small wins and enjoy flexible designs.

Finally, the main reason team leaders cannot lead all of their direct reports are many, but most important is the “fear of failure” due to a lack of education in the theory and skills needed to dare beginning the initial private conversation about each employee’s hopes and dreams for a wonderful career of personal growth and helping people.  As for us, let’s share what we believe will be useful.  A generation is a terrible thing to waste by not really grooming its leaders and members to experience the promised joys of the new work life.  Finally, we conclude I-O psychologists should be on the new design teams to fit the new systems into different organizational contexts.


Bass, B. M. & Riggio, R. E. (2006).  Transformational leadership ( 2nd ed.) Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Campbell, J. (2012). Leadership, the old, the new, and the timeless: A commentary. In M. R. Rumsey (Ed.), Oxford handbook of leadership (pp. 401-422). New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Corporate Leadership Council. (2012). Driving breakthrough performance in new work environment (Catalog No. CLc4570512SYN). Washington, DC: CEB

Fairhurst, G., & Uhl-Bien, M. (2012). Organizational discourse analysis (ODA): Examining leadership as a relational process.  Leadership Quarterly, 23(6), 1043-1062.

Gottfredson, R. K., & Aguinis, H. (2016). Leadership behaviors and follower performance: Deductive and inductive examination of theoretical rationales and underlying mechanisms.  Journal of Organizational Behavior. Wiley Online Library.  DOI: 10.11002/job.2152.

Graen, G. B. & Cañedo, J. C. (2017).  Charismatic and innovative team leadership by and for millennials Oxford Bibliographies in Management Series.  New York: Oxford University Press.

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Graen G. B., & Grace, M. (2015b). Positive industrial and organizational psychology: Designing for tech savvy, optimistic, and purposeful millennial professionals’ company cultures. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 8(3), 395-408.

Graen, G. B. & Schiemann, W. (2013).  Leadership-motivated excellence theory: An extension of LMX.  Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28, 5, 452-469.

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Hackman, J. R., & Wageman, R. (2005).  A theory of team coaching.  Academy of Management Review, 30, 269-287.

Hollander, E. P. (2012). Inclusive leadership.  In M. R. Rumsey (Ed.), Oxford handbook of leadership (pp. 122-143). London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Riggio, R. E., & Ono. M. (2000).  Leadership. Oxford Bibliographies in Management Series. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Sparrowe, R. T., & Liden, R. C. (2005). Two routes to influence: Integrating leader-member exchange and network perspectives. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50, 4.

Steiber, A. (2011).  Research report on managerial leadership needs.  Society for Human Research Management.  New York, NY: SHRM.

Weer, C. H., DiRenzo, M. S., & Shipper, F. M., (2015).  A holistic view of employee coaching: Longitudinal investigation of the impact of facilitative and pressure-based coaching on team effectiveness.  Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 52(2), 187-214. 

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