• Dr Okechukwu Amah

Leadership styles and relational energy in the workplace

LBS Insight

Leadership styles and relational energy in the workplace

One of the drivers of organisational success is energy generated between employees in the workplace. This energy represents how employees are mentally engaged and motivated in committing their efforts to carrying out allocated duties. A component of organisational energy is relational energy; which denotes the energy generated and transmitted when employees interact with one another while carrying out their duties. Relational energy is an organisational resource that is useful to employees for managing high work-family conflict and enhancing individual performance. The nature and intensity of this transferred energy can positively or negatively influence individual performance and other organisational resources. Positively energised employees perform allocated duties quickly and enjoy completing tasks, while negatively energised employees grudgingly and inefficiently carry out tasks.

In a new study, Leadership styles and relational energy: Do all leadership styles generate and transmit equal relational energy?, Lagos Business School faculty, Dr Okechukwu Amah investigated the nature of relational energy generated and transmitted when interactions are between leaders and subordinates within an organisation and the influence of the energy on employee’s productivity. Relational energy is a resource bank that can be increased or decreased depending on the nature and level of interaction. This interaction process is contagious because the energy generated is shared and transferred from one person to another within the organisation. Employees tend to gravitate towards interactions that provide positive energy and recoil from those that produce negative energy. It is therefore not unlikely that different leadership styles will generate different relational energy, which can be energising or de-energising to subordinates. Thus, a better understanding of this concept will provide organisations with empirical justification to select leaders with the right leadership mindset and further train future leaders to develop effective styles that will spur their subordinates to perform maximally.

Leadership styles exhibited by the top hierarchy of an organisation can be broadly categorised into two: promotion-focused and prevention-focused leadership styles. In promotion-focused leadership style, the motives for leadership are people-directed, with leaders exhibiting values characterised as openness to change, a positive mindset to tackling challenging situations, and willingness to utilise problem-solving techniques to achieve desired output. On the other hand, leaders with prevention-focused motives usually see people as a means to an end, with most of them displaying values characterised as conservative, negative attitude in challenging situations, and reluctance to drive positive change within the organisation.

Four leadership styles – transformational, transactional, autocratic, and servant – were identified based on leaders’ motives to lead and the values placed on employees in relation to the goals of an organisation. While transformational and servant leadership styles are driven by the motive to lead and have great interest in developing people, thereby likely to energise employees to work efficiently, transactional and autocratic leadership styles emphasise the needs of people only if it will contribute to the task being carried out and will likely de-energise employees. However, the energy generated and transmitted by a servant leader is greater than that of a transformational leader because the servant leader accepts employees as they are, empowers and develops them, shows them genuine concern and ultimately places their needs above all else.

The author’s findings show that relational energy is radiated when leaders interact with their subordinates and that different leadership styles are not equally effective in generating and transmitting relational energy. In other words, the nature and levels of relational energy generated and transmitted by each leadership style are not the same. Servant leadership style generates and transmits the highest value of relational energy, closely followed by transformational, transactional and autocratic leadership styles, in that order. One of the practical implications of these findings is that organisations must select leaders that exhibit desired leadership behaviours such as servant leadership style, and avoid transactional and autocratic behaviours. This is because the relational energy generated and transmitted during leader-subordinate interactions plays an important role in enhancing the efficiency and productivity of employees. Organisations should tailor their training programmes towards developing leaders with servant and transformational leadership behaviours.

Have you ever had to work with an autocratic leader? If yes, how did you handle the leadership style?

 

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