Leadership and Employee Performance

Updated August 3, 2022

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Leadership and Employee Performance essay

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This research is an attempt to evaluate both leadership style and engagement of Mississippi State Extension county directors and to study the connection between their leadership style and employee engagement. Leadership and engagement are common areas among both researchers and supervisors.

Contrary to the popularity regarding both subjects, a standard measurement, definition or theory relating to employee leadership (Hernandez, Eberly, Avolio, and Johnson, 2011) or engagement (Saks and Gruman, 2014) is not easily found. Because of this, the literature review offers theories and definitions associated with leadership styles and engagement and an analysis related to engagement and demographics.

This chapter provides a review of the pertinent literature concerning leadership and engagement. Within this review exists a number of broad researched subjects relating to leadership and engagement, as there exists a minimum amount of empirical studies conducted specific to the Extension service. Additionally, this chapter provides relevant literature which has been conducted specifically for use for the Extension service.


Leadership has become a prevalent subject for institutions, organizations, employees, and several theories related to leadership have been written in the literature. Leadership is a crucial element when engaging employees (Liu, Lepak, Takeuchi, and Sims, 2003). There exists much debate pertaining to variances between leadership and management styles. For Extension, it is assumed that those in leadership of the organization are also those in managerial positions. The prevailing thought is that to be effective, they must be a leader as well as a manager.

Kotter (1990b) notes that leaders form the direction and align people in the organization as well as provide motivation. Further, he notes that leadership produces change within an organization and it contributes to management rather than supplanting it.

Empirical research has shown that those in leadership and management do not differentiate themselves into either stereotype (Yukl, 2002). However, there are those who see leadership as part of management and that they are interdependent upon each other (Lester and Kunich, 1997).

To be effective as a manager, leaders utilize people and resources to achieve objectives (Seevers, Graham, Gamon, and Conklin, 1997). Lester and Kunich (1997) define leaders as establishing the setting for the organizational culture as well as determining both the mission and vision of an organization.

To accomplish this, leaders must provide motivation and inspiration (Lester and Kunich 1997). In Extension, management is branched into five units: organizing, planning, leading, human resources and, controlling (Buford, Bedeian, and Lindner,1995). The leader’s role within Extension consists of management convincing individuals to work willingly to accomplish the organizational mission (Buford, Bedeian, and Lindner,1995).

Key Leadership Theories

To understand the concept of leadership, it is important to understand the various theories of leadership. Scholtes (1999) states that learning cannot be performed without theory and, that learning cannot take place without application. Kanji and Sa (2001) state that when regarded together, different leadership theories offer a multifaceted understanding of leadership. For decades, studies have been conducted to try and explain leadership. Most of this research has tried to define effective leadership utilizing numerous approaches.

Nahavandi (2000) placed modern leadership into three eras: the behavior era, the trait era, and the contingency era. Additionally, Yukl (2002) placed leadership theories into five approaches: the behavioral approach, the power influence approach, the trait approach, the situational approach, and the integrative approach.

Previous research within these five approaches have allowed for an enhanced understanding of leadership and, how each approach enhances our understanding about leadership (Nahavandi, 2000). These five approaches will be briefly discussed in the following sections.

The Trait Approach

Research conducted utilizing the trait approach in leadership stressed detailed attributes of those in leadership roles. This includes traits such as values, skills, motives, and personality (Yukl, 2002). The thought that directed the trait leadership studies was that those in leadership roles possessed specific traits that those not in leadership roles did not. This held that natural leaders were born to be leaders and not made.

Leadership research performed in the 1930’s and 1940’s is considered that of Trait Leadership (Bass, 1990). Conversely, the research performed during that era neglected to generate a list of traits which could guarantee success of leadership (Yukl, 2002). What the research did find was that leadership is associated with different traits and that the list of traits was too vast to be of any significance.

Due to the failure to produce a list of traits which added value to successful leaders, researchers began utilizing other approaches. However, trait leadership has garnered new interest in researching leadership (Bryman, 1992). Though the trait approach is not singled out as the only factor in successful leadership, it is viewed as one of the elements (Nahavandi, 2000).

The Behavioral Approach

Due to the lack of definitive results with the trait approach, scholars began utilizing the behavioral approach in leadership research. Through this method, researchers scrutinize how leaders truly performed their jobs (Yukl, 2002).

Under the behavioral approach, research is divided into two categories; the responsibilities, activities, and functions of work performed by leaders, and recognizing successful leadership performance (Yukl, 2002). Displaying parallels to the trait approach, the behavior approach only recognizes one variable related to leadership. Because this approach stresses only behaviors, it ignores other variables including situational elements.

In turn, it becomes more simplistic and provides a diminished insight of the intricate understanding of leadership (Nahavandi, 2000).

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