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Title: Was Burns right? : leadership and power in the knowledge economy
Author: Kelly, Andrew
ISNI:       0000 0001 3596 5847
Awarding Body: University of Strathclyde
Current Institution: University of Strathclyde
Date of Award: 2008
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Burns' (1978) book 'Leadership' is held to be one of the most influential books in the leadership field in the last 50 years. Despite its pre-eminence the fundamental concepts behind Burns' analysis of leadership have remained empirically untested. Burns argues that 'to understand the nature of leadership requires understanding of the nature of power' (p. 3), but the concept of followers as power holders in the leadership relationship has been greatly understated in much of the extant leadership research. Power is regarded as a problematic and complex concept that does not always sit comfortably with the ideology, and values espoused in much of the management literature. Many leadership models assume that power is the natural fiat of management and power derives from management's control of the main resources within the organisation and fail to recognise that power is dispersed across the various actors in the organisation. Burns argues that motives and resources are the two essentials of power, but whilst a review of the literature on transformational leadership (TL) will throw up many references to TL raising followers to higher level motives, there are scant references or discussion on the pivotal role the other essential, resource, plays in the leadership process. Much of the TL literature fails to recognise the exchange aspects of the leaderfollower relationships and the influence of power upon them. It also fails to recognise the influence of followers on the leadership style in the organisation, assuming a top-down model of unilateral activity where organisational agents select their behaviours whilst hermetically sealed from any external influence. Contrary to Burns' theory, these models proffer a simplistic model of leadership with a clear causality between leader behaviour and follower outcomes, rather than a series of complex, reciprocal relationships. This research sought firstly to test Burns' theory that a demonstration of TL will result in a higher level of motivation amongst followers, and consequently a higher commitment of resources. Secondly, to explore in more detail the influence of resource in Burns' theory the research contrasted followers' perception of leadership levels, motivation and OCB between knowledge workers and non-knowledge workers. It is argued that if Burn's theory of transforming leadership is valid, the centrality of knowledge as a resource within knowledge-based organisations will have constructed a new leadership relationship between knowledge workers and leaders where the satisfaction of higher level motivators will be evident. Drawing on Crozier's Strategic Contingency Theory (1964) it is proposed that the knowledge workers will use their position as the main source of organisational uncertainty and will expect leaders within organisation to recognise their control over the key strategic resource and manifest that recognition in an enhanced content of the psychological contract. The research used the psychological contract as a construct to measure the level of follower motivation and OCB to measure the level of personal resource commitment. Measures of the six TL behaviours in the Transformational Leadership Questionnaire (Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe 2000), the Psychological Contract Inventory (Rousseau 2000) and three elements of OCI3 (Podsakoff et al 1997) were obtained from 426 employees from a range of organisations in Scotland including an electronics company, a bio-tech company and a government department. The research found that transformational leadership is strongly correlated to the higher level motivators in Maslow's (1954) hierarchy as encapsulated in the Balanced Psychological contract, but it is also strongly correlated to the mid-range motivators such as loyalty, security and belonging. The findings of the research also support Burns' claim of a correlation between a demonstration of transforming leadership and a high level of resource commitment, as represented in this research as OCB. This research suggests that where the higher level motivators are being addressed, in the forms of a fulfilled balanced and relational psychological contract, there is a greater commitment of resources in the form of a higher level of OCB. This research supports Burns' assertion that power is the central factor in the leadership relationship and challenges the leadership theory that dependent followers exert little or no upward influence on the behaviour of the leader. The research has found that TL is more positively correlated with KWs than non-KWs, more positively correlated with a balanced and a relational psychological contract and is also more positively correlated with OCB with KWs than non-KWs. This would suggest that leaders in KBOs are responding to the shift in uncertainty and knowledge workers have greater expectations of their psychological contract. Leaders in KBOs are responding to the changes in the power balance and are demonstrating higher levels of TL to secure more OCB, the source of competitive advantage in KBOs.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral