Mediation of dispositional effects by skills or leader behavior

From a theoretical perspective, dispositional approaches to leadership assumed that stable individual characteristics (traits) produce leadership behavior, which in turn, affects subsequent leadership outcomes such as perception and effectiveness. Addi- tionally, this approach also assumed that a leader’s style or behavioral tendency is stable across situations, and that these leader- ship styles generally have consistent influences on outcomes. As demonstrated in Fig. 1, this conceptualization can be represented by a trait to outcome relationship, c, that can then be decomposed into a trait to behavior effect, a, and a behavior to outcome effect, b. In other words, leadership skills and behaviors serve as mediators of individual difference effects (DeRue et al., 2011; Zaccaro et al., 2004). By conceptualizing the relation of traits to leadership outcomes in this way, it is apparent that the product ab equals c, but the effects of a are within a person, and b’s effects involve the leader’s task or social environment. Therefore, one problem that arises from dispositional views is that simply examining the total effect (from a meditational standpoint) or the re- lation of individual differences to outcomes, c, ignores the distinction between processes that are internal to a leader, and process- es that involve the external environment.

Decomposing dispositional effects into two parts (an internal person effect and an external environmental effect) also high- lights three additional issues. First, the relation of traits to behaviors, a, may not be stable across situations as implied within

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processes views of personality (Shoda et al., 2002) or theories of self-complexity (Hannah et al., 2009; Lord et al., 2011). As we have described previously, a leader’s effectiveness in dynamic situations requires that they enact different (but appropriate) be- havioral responses in order to meet the demands of changing external environments or influence group processes. Second, the nature of the behavior to outcome relationship, b, may vary with the complexity of the situation. As such, paths a or b could both serve as consistent (or variable) inputs that affect the consistency (or variability) of a leader’s performance. Third, modeling this meditational process will be highly sensitive to the adequacy with which leader behavior is measured since behavior is in- volved in estimating both paths a and b. Therefore, even moderate unreliability of leader behavioral measures will attenuate the estimates of the indirect paths, and can result in making erroneous conclusions regarding mediation, and the direct effects of individual difference variables (Hall & Usher-Perez, 2011). These issues apply both to understanding leadership effectiveness and leadership perceptions, and for this reason in the following discussion, we use the term leader outcomes to reflect both types of dependent variables.

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