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Interpersonal Leadership Literature Review


This literature review examines leadership theories with a view to interpersonal aspects of the several perspectives under discussion. The paper will proceed by examining three leadership perspectives in particular, namely the Path-Goal Theory, the Leader-Member Exchange, and the Psychodynamic Approach. The research reveals that each perspective has useful analytical tools which will aid organizational leadership in their respective duties toward their superiors and other organizational personnel.

Interpersonal Leadership Literature Review

Leadership and organizational scholars have continuously examined the nature of the leader-follower or manager-employee relationship. This relationship is also known as the interpersonal relationship of the leader and follower, which will be the topic of this literature review. The methodology employed involves researching the relevant leadership journals and reporting the findings of three leadership perspectives, namely the Path-Goal theory, the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory, and the Psychodynamic Approach theory. The logical progression of this literature review is as follows: (1) Path-Goal theory, (2) Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory, and (3) Psychodynamic Approach. It is an interesting observation that each view provides managers with useful analytical tools for understanding their organizations and the personnel within them.

Path-Goal Theory and Interpersonal Leadership

Interpersonal leadership delineates the guidance from one in a position of authority to those in a subordinate position. Although seemingly straightforward, the notion of leadership has become an increasingly complex concept as industrial focus has attempted to highlight the qualities that comprise effective management in the workforce. In fact, Northouse (2013) believes that “collectively, the research findings on leadership provide a picture of a process that is far more sophisticated and complex than the over simplistic view” (p.1) the term often connotes. One of the most fascinating aspects of effective leadership is a leader’s ability to motivate, encourage and inspire his/her subordinates.

Undoubtedly, leaders should be role models and examples for their subordinates. It has been said that “leadership is not just what you do, but who you are” (Elena, 2011, p.1095). These two ideas are not mutually exclusive but dependent on one another. The concept of “who you are” represents one’s personal characteristics, while, “what you do” represents the outward expression of these personal qualities. Each is dependent on the other for maximum effectiveness. A key characteristic of leadership is establishing and executing accountability for oneself and for those they are responsible for. What is possibly more significant is how this is accomplished, through means of power and cohesion or through motivation and guidance. Analysis of Path-Goal Theory and leadership styles aids in understanding motivational, interpersonal leadership.

Path-Goal Theory, Interpersonal Leadership, and Motivation

Path-goal theory specifically details how those in an authority position (i.e. leaders) motivate those in a subordinate position (i.e. workers) to accomplish pre-defined objectives. The Path-goal theory, heavily influenced by Martin Evans work on motivational behavior and Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory, was developed by Robert House in 1971 (House, 1977, p.331). The specific tenet of this theory postulates that employee performance and employee satisfaction are directly influenced by employee motivation (Northouse, 2013, p.137). Emphasis is placed on the correlation between leader’s approach and the traits of the worker; thus, a worker’s sense of satisfaction and productiveness is contingent upon the style of their leader. This transactional approach to leadership expects that “subordinates will be motivated if they think they are capable of performing their work, if they believe their efforts will result in a certain outcome, and if they believe that the payoffs for doing their work are worthwhile” (Northouse, 2013, p.137). Consequently, a leader’s system of operating becomes imperative to effective motivational leadership.

Under Path-goal theory, leadership style is directly related to worker motivation, which, in turn, is directly related to workforce productivity. Subsequently, leaders must employ strategies that best meet the needs of his/her workers. Dessler and Valenzi (1977) discussed how leaders must attempt to increase worker’s ambition by offering information or positive reinforcement in the work environment. Mawhinney and Ford (1977) expanded on this belief stating that leadership can generate motivation through increased incentives, both in the type, frequency and amount. Although theoretically complex, this theory simply purports that workers can and are motivated by particular leadership styles, thus compensating for something previously missing in either the workplace or the worker themselves (Northhouse, 2013).

Strengths of Path-Goal Theory

The Path-goal theory possesses several strengths. Primarily, the theory provides a context for understanding the leader-worker relationship. Specifically, it illuminates how leadership behaviors and styles positively influence worker satisfaction and work performance. This allows insight into how a leader can effectively motivate his/her workers. The theory “integrates the motivational principles of expectancy theory into a theory of leadership” (Northouse, 2013, p.145). Consequently, this framework continuously highlights how leaders can motivate his/her employees. Most simply, however, this theory details how leaders can help employees, thus achieving the occupational goal.

Critique of Path-Goal Theory

Although, a positive and helpful framework, the Path-goal theory is not without its weaknesses. Inclusion of several aspects of leadership can become overwhelming and make interpretation difficult. Additionally, available research indicates that the theory is “only partially” (Northouse, 2013, p.146) empirically supported. Consequently, verifying the validity of the theory is questionable at best. Furthermore, although it provides a starting point to explain the correlation between leadership styles and worker motivation, it fails to specifically detail how each of the styles enhances motivation. However, it is believed that continued research and revisions to the theory would compensate for the currently identified critiques.

Leadership Style and Motivation

Research evaluating the relationship between leadership and motivation highlights the direct correlation between leadership styles and the level of motivation in employees. The four most common styles of leadership are directive, supportive, participative and achievement-oriented leadership (Schriesheim and Von Glinow, 1977, p.401). The available literature discusses how each of the aforementioned styles can be conductive to leaders motivating workers. Rather than assuming one of the four styles is superior, an integrative approach drawing from each of the four styles is believe to be the most conductive to motivational leadership. Given that the needs, behaviors and motivating factors for each worker may be different and the differences inherent in different work environment, effective leaders would be knowledgeable of and able to employ each of the aforementioned styles.

Directive Leadership

Directive leadership is a common style of management. This style is instructional and characterized by a leader who tells subordinate staff what they are expected to do and how to perform the expected tasks. According to Northouse (2013), “a directive leader sets clear standards of performance and makes rules and regulations clear to subordinates” (p.139). A directive leadership style is often helpful for a manager within a business where his/her subordinate staff members have jobs that are not particularly specialized; clear and specific direction may be needed to avoid uncertainty.

Supportive Leadership

Supportive leadership is an organic approach to management and emphasizes emotional sensitivity. With this style, the leader’s emphasis is not on giving orders and micromanagement but rather on providing employees the skills they need to produce the work themselves (Rehman, Scholar, and Waheed, 2012, p.262). Although delegation is an important component of supportive leadership, managers do not simply assign tasks and then receive the results. As an alternative, leaders work through the tasks with employees to improve skills and talent until he/she can confidently allow the worker to engage in the task independently. The goal with this style is for the employee to become fully empowered in a particular area. Supportive leaders listen carefully to their employees and help them deal with stress and the conflicting personalities of other employees (Tebeian, 2012, p.320). This style requires empathy and a degree of sensitivity and requires significant time investment by the leader.

Participative Leadership

As the name implies, the participative leadership style invites workers to share in the administrative duties (Northouse, 2013). This style assumes a collaborative, almost team-like approach between leaders and workers. From this perspective, this leadership style relies heavily on the leader functioning as a facilitator rather than simply issuing orders or making assignments. This leadership style encourages leader and worker contribution. One of the main benefits of participative leadership is that the process allows for the motivation for worker’s to offer their suggestions and feel included in the business process (Vidic & Burton, 2011, p.283). Consequently, leaders who employ this style encourage active involvement on the part of everyone on the team, people often are able to express their creativity and demonstrate abilities and talents that might not be made apparent otherwise. The discovery of these hidden assets help to benefit the work of the current team, but also alerts the organization to people within the team who should be provided with opportunities to further develop some skill or ability for future use (Shoemaker, Krupp, and Howland, 2013, p.132).

Achievement-Oriented Leadership

Northouse (2013) defines achievement-oriented leadership as being “characterized by a leader who challenges subordinates to perform work at the highest level possible” (p.140). Leaders utilizing this style of management set challenging goals, assist in training, emphasize improvement, and expect exemplary performance. Although this style of leadership assumes great expectations from workers, these leaders also exude great confidence in workers’ ability to accomplish goals and achieve the high level of expectations set (Pless, 2007, p.450).

Leader-Member Exchange and Interpersonal Leadership

Leader-member exchange or LMX is a very important theory that all leaders should understand. LMX refers to how leaders (managers and supervisors) maintain their position through a series of interactions with the members (subordinates) in an organizational hierarchy (Kulkarni & Ramamoorthy, 2011). LMX relationship can be classified as ‘high-quality’ (‘in-group’) or ‘low-quality’ (‘out-group’) exchanges (Kulkarni & Ramamoorthy, 2011). Low LMX relationships are purely economic and based on the employment contract (Lawrence & Michele, 2012). High quality exchanges are characterized by high levels of support, interaction, and formal and informal rewards as opposed to low-quality exchange relationships (Kulkarni & Ramamoorthy, 2011). Subordinates who enjoy a high-quality LMX relationship have higher job satisfaction and autonomy, and receive more formal and informal rewards than those in low-quality LMX relationships (Lawrence & Michele, 2012).

LMX and Work Conflict

Leader-member exchange (LMX) can act as an ‘antidote’ to work strain, because subordinates with high LMXs are likely to receive emotional and social support from their supervisors to cope with a stressful working environment (Xu, Simon, Wing, & Xinsheng, 2010). Service workers with lower levels of self-emotion appraisal may benefit from a high quality LMX, because in such an exchange relationship they may experience high levels self-control, and thus reduced work-related stress and heightened intrinsic motivation (Xu, Simon, Wing, & Xinsheng, 2010). High-quality LMX subordinates experience lower levels of stress due to the reduction or elimination of role stressors, such as ambiguity and role conflict, and through the increased support and information (Lawrence & Michele, 2012). High-quality LMX relationships experience lower levels of role conflict then low-quality LMX members as these members receive adequate information, communication, and assistance from their supervisors to prioritize their roles (Lawrence & Michele, 2012).

Other conflicts an LMX leader will experience

An effective leader whether an LMX leader or not must handle conflict effectively. Many choose to avoid or pretend that conflict does not exist. Non-action is the most common conflict management strategy because people are uncomfortable with confronting the conflict (Singleton, Toombs, Taneja, Larkin, & Pryor, 2011). But this can lead to many problems. Unresolved conflict can lead to unhappy employees, high turnover, lower productivity and lower profits (Deyoe & Fox, 2011). Leadership can give people a voice, help them stay with their conflicts when needed, and contain the tensions rather than adopting a one-dimensional either/or perspective when collaboration is not yet an option (Kuttner, 2011). Leadership that is effective provides encouragement and support, releases tensions, harmonizes misunderstanding and deals with disruptive or aggressive behavior (Lather, Jain, Jain, & Vikas, 2009). The most sever type of conflict that causes the most amount of stress is interpersonal conflict (Jaramillo, Mulki, & Boles, 2011). Leader must pay the most attention to this type of conflict. Interpersonal conflict involves both overt (e.g., rudeness) and covert (e.g., spreading rumors) behaviors that lead to psychological strain (Jaramillo, Mulki, & Boles, 2011).

Conflict and Emotional Intelligence

People who are more sensitive to their emotions and the impact of their emotions on others will be leaders who are more effective (Northouse, 2012). In the position of leader, the importance of emotional intelligence tends to be positioned around 85% and IQ at 15% (Hahn, Sabou, Toader, & Radulescu, 2012). Emotional intelligence helps leaders in times of stress. This is important because, conflict decreases our awareness through increased stress, but conflict resolution requires increasing awareness and decreased stress (Nan, 2011). Lenaghan, Buda, and Eisner (2007) found that leaders who have high emotional intelligence may better and more carefully handle the inherent work-family conflict than those with low Emotional Intelligence. There is a positive relation between emotional intelligence and conflict management which means that the emotional intelligence of individuals affect their quality of dissolving disagreements and the styles of conflict managements (Aliasgari & Farzadnia, 2012). High emotional intelligence brings in a different type of leadership style. Emotionally intelligent leaders and employees tend to use more of the collaborating or integrating style of conflict resolution in which there is high concern towards self and other (Godse & Thingujam, 2010). Leaders must communicate their emotions using all means of expression, verbal and nonverbal (Kouzes & Posner, 2012).

LMX and Emotional Intelligence

LMX is more likely to help reduce emotional pressure for service workers with lower levels of emotional intelligence, because they need more emotional and social support from their supervisors to deal with work-related strain and emotional problems (Xu, Simon, Wing, & Xinsheng, 2010). Increased emotional investment in the work role includes increased time and energy focusing on the work role and can include behaviors such as, taking work home or continuing to think about unfinished tasks at work and how they will be completed on the next day (Lawrence & Michele, 2012). While high-quality LMX members do not experience stress as a result of role conflict, they indeed experience stress through a different mechanism, job involvement high-quality LMX members experience reduced amounts of stress as a result of increased communication and information that they receive from supervisors (Lawrence & Michele, 2012).

Psychodynamic Approach and Interpersonal Leadership

Organizational leadership involves a plethora of interpersonal activities that involve considerable social and emotional acumen. In fact, there are certain leadership scholars that would argue that emotional and social acumen is the most important aspect of a great leadership personality (Goleman, 2002; Zaleznik, 1990). Recently, a study found that organizational performance was severely diminished by emotional disappointment in an organization and that leadership needed to manage the organizational emotions in order to restore positive emotions in the organization (Clancy, Vince, & Gabriel, 2012). Moreover, studies have shown that followers often have negative emotional-social experiences with leaders and this in turn affects organizational performance (Greyvensteing & Cilliers, 2012; He & Brown, 2013). Organizations are interested in understanding this phenomenon in order to prevent its occurrence.

In the organizational leadership literature the scientific study of individual and organizational personality is loosely classified as a branch of leadership studies called the psychodynamic approach. The following sections will investigate the psychodynamic approach to leadership with a view to the interpersonal relations and activities of organizational leaders and followers. The logical progression of this investigation will follow three sections: (1) fundamentals of the psychodynamic approach, (2) a psychodynamic approach literature review, and (3) a conclusion.

Fundamentals of the Psychodynamic Approach

Generally speaking, there are two basic approaches in psychodynamic theory, namely the psychoanalytic and the humanistic (McLeod & Kettner-Polley, 2004). However, King and Nicole (1999) applied psychodynamic approach while emphasizing that recognition of individual spirituality by leadership could increase organizational performance. But, leadership scholars usually apply the psychoanalytic and therefore only these approaches will be discussed due to space requirements.

The psychodynamic approach is a combination of various social sciences and it borrows from several schools of leadership thought, but is primarily associated with psychology. With regard to leadership, the psychodynamic approach seeks to understand and identify personality types (Northouse, 2013). Personality within the psychodynamic approach refers to a “consistent pattern of ways of thinking, feeling, and acting with regard to the environment, including other people” (Northouse, 2013). It should not be thought of as one theory or model, but should be thought of as a set of theoretical constructs that will permit leaders and followers to understand more about themselves and the interpersonal relations that are constantly at work in an organization (Greyvenstein & Cilliers, 2012; Popper, 2011; Prins, 2006). Thus, psychodynamic approaches to leadership, followers, and organizations are useful for leaders and followers.

Psychodynamic Approach Literature Review

The history of the psychodynamic approach and contemporary organizational leadership has its roots in the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (King & Nicol, 1999; Westen, 1998). Sigmund Freud and his disciple, Carl Jung, provided many of the theoretical and analytical constructs that the psychodynamic approach uses to understand leaders and follower personalities (Northouse, 2013). The following paragraphs will briefly examine Freudian-Maccobian narcissism, Jungian personality types, and Eric Berne’s psychodynamic approach called transactional analysis with their relative leader-follower interpersonal descriptions.

Freudian Narcissism

Generally, the Freudian conception of leadership suggests that leaders derive their emotional need for power through emotional connections with childhood conceptions of the father (Popper, 2011). Freud created a classification system with three personality types, namely erotic, obsessive, and narcissistic- with narcissism receiving the most attention in leadership studies (Fraher, 2004; Northouse, 2013). Narcissistic leaders are described as grandiose, arrogant, self-centered, entitlement, delicate self-esteem, and potentially hostile (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). The interpersonal relationships formed by narcissistic leaders with their followers are said to be artificial and are maintained not to cultivate genuine, positive emotional connections, but are rather cultivated in order to satisfy the leader’s need for power (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). However, while generally characterized negatively, there is, according to Maccoby’s doctrine of the productive narcissist, the saving virtue of narcissistic leaders being visionaries (Lister, 2004).

Jungian Personality Types

Carl Jung was a disciple of Sigmund Freud, but modified the Freudian model to develop his own system of personality type classification system (Trehan, 2007). Jung’s classification system has 16 types and is built upon the notions of extraversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuiting, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving (Northouse, 2013). By identifying leadership personalities with the appropriate types is intended to indicate the nature of the relationships that the leader will create with followers (Northouse, 2013).

Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis

Leadership theorists have borrowed from the psychologist Eric Berne and his transactional analysis (Northouse, 2013). In order to understand transactional analysis fundamentally, a few words from Berne (1996) should suffice, he writes:

Transactional analysis is a part of a comprehensive system of individual and social psychiatry. It is designed to make maximum therapeutic use of the actual occurrences in therapy groups, which consists of transactions between patients on the one hand, and transactions between the patients and the therapist on the other. (p. 154)

Berne’s transactional analysis constructs are traditional, which is to say that they use the psychological personality language of Freud and Jung namely, the Parent, Adult, and Child (Berne, 1996). These constructs are then applied to organizations via the leader and follower. It argues that organizational stability is a result of complementary transactions and that organizational problems are a result of crossed transactions (Northouse, 2013). Thus, when applying the transactional model leadership should focus on maintaining complementary transactions in order to secure organizational performance.


Path-Goal Theory, Leader-Member Exchange, and Psychodynamic Approach are useful leader-follower analytical tools that will enable leaders and followers to enhance their organizational performance. It may be observed from the following that each leadership perspective has its pros and cons, its strengths and its weaknesses, and its potential to help organizational leadership understand their organizations and thereby become more effective in their interpersonal relationships with other personnel. It does not appear that there is a single leadership philosophy that will serve as a panacea for leadership dilemmas, but knowing each approach will serve to make the ability to create a positive interpersonal experience with other personnel is certainly something that is not outside the realm of possibility.


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