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Responsible Leadership for Performance: A

Theoretical Model and Hypotheses

Susan A. Lynham - Texas A&M


Thomas J. Chermack - The Pennsylvania State University

Literature on leadership indicates an absence of

general, integrative theory. Much of existing

theory focuses on effective leadership, and on

leadership processes, at the individual, group,

or organizational level. Little emphasis is placed

on whole system effect, and less on concerns for

both people and performance. The theoretical

framework developed and discussed addresses

this inadequacy, presenting an integrative and

general perspective of leadership that focuses on

leadership responsibility to both people and


Companies spend large amounts of money in pursuit of recipes for leadership success. In

1998 it was estimated that 86% of companies offer some form of leadership training (Boyett &

Boyett; Zhu, May & Avolio, 2004). Conversely,

few companies can attest to the verifiable

contribution of this investment to their business

performance, although much of the research literature claims leadership as critical to

organizational performance and profitability

(Bass, 1985; Bass,

1990; Clark, Clark &

Campbell, 1992; Kotter, 1990a, 1990b; Meindl

& Ehrlich, 1987; Rottenberg & Saloner, 1993; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992; Zhu, May & Avolio,

2004). Leadership and leadership development

will increasingly need to show a direct link to





decreasingly about recipes of actions and

characteristics that are transferable to infinite

contexts, reflected in the likes of popular

leadership models such as that of Coveys

principle-centered leadership (1989, 1991 ).

Brungardt (1996) highlights that, in spite of

the abundance of leadership research over the

last several years, which has given us a &dquo;


better understanding of leaders leadership process the field of leadership studies



continues to be &dquo; riddled

with paradoxes,

inconsistencies and contradictions&dquo; (p.82). This lack of theoretical and empirical rigor is

underscored by Klenke: &dquo;


to the

messy state of the art [of leadership] are




methodological issues as well as



between the

disciplines contributing to

leadership studies&dquo; (1993, p.112). Swanson (1995) stressed that as the role of performance

improvement in organizations increasingly takes on strategic and global importance, executives



increasingly held

Leadership and leadership development should be seen as &dquo;core

at improving









organizational efforts performance&dquo;







organization’s major business processes and

their connectedness to core inputs and outputs

for the purpose of adding value&dquo;(p. ix). In short,

the stresses and demands of the emerging global

organization and accompanying chaos and

complexity of these business realities will likely

call for leadership that can

fundamentally differently in the future (Lynham,

think and act

1998, 2000c, 2000d; McLagan & Nel, 1995).

Grounding the Problem

A review of the literature points to a

number of inadequacies. First, the direct link

between leadership and business performance is

implied rather than explicit, i.e., the majority of

studies that examine leadership are not studies

that tend to link leadership practices to objective

outputs of the leadership system (Bass, 1990;

Holton & Lynham, 2000). Second, the impact of leadership on performance is not considered

from multiple domains of performance (Bass,

1990; Holton & Lynham, 2000; Lynham, 1998, 2000d; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992). By multiple



of performance,




leadership is not often studied in ways that

document its effect on individual indicators of performance, group indicators of performance,




of performance,

organizational indicators of performance and

specifically all of these at the same time. Third,








dimensional notion of responsibility (Collins &

Porras, 1994; Freudberg, 1986; White Newman,

suggest that not

1993). We

only should

leadership be responsible, but that the notion of

responsibility is related to other ethical and moral factors that are often created and agreed upon within the system itself. Although some

notions of leadership include the importance of

value-centeredness (Clark &


1991), and







importance of renewal in leadership (Gardner, 1990), being responsible in leadership is

predominantly associated with effectiveness

(Bennis, 1994; Bhatia, 1995; Tannenbaum &

Schmidt, 1973)--with getting things done.

Fourth, missing from this body of literature is

agreement on


That the phenomenon of leadership may be

a system, with inputs, processes, outputs and

feedback, and in service to a largerperformance

system, is not deeply considered in the literature

and represents a notable void in this body of

knowledge. Given the huge amounts of money

being spent on the training, coaching and

development of leadership capabilities and

capacity, and the increasingly diverse environs

in which leadership is both applied and judged,

the above are troublesome knowledge gaps and

the dependent variable



Brungardt, 1996; Trevion, Brown, & Hartman,

2003; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992).





The problem statement driving this study is

thus: available leadership theories neither

explicitly nor adequately address the nature and challenges of leadership that is both responsible and focused on performance. There is a need for

satisfies these


theory of leadership that

multiple domains of concern and that integrates the practical overarching concerns for people

and performance (Lynham, 1998, 2000c, 2000d;

Melrose, 1995). It is therefore the purpose of

this study to begin to address this inadequacy in

current leadership theory.

Research Questions & Methodology

Given the above problem statement, the

following research questions were used to

develop and guide this study: 1) Can &dquo;A Theory

of Responsible Leadership for Performance&dquo; be


Responsible Leadership for Performance&dquo; be

operationalized [for later verification]?

Due to the applied nature of leadership, and

the preliminary nature of this study, Dubins (1978) two-part, eight-step, theory-to-research methodology for applied theory building is well

suited to address the research question and sub-

questions. This applied theory building

methodology includes: (1) identification of the

units or concepts of the theory, (2) determining

the laws of interaction among the units, (3)

specifying the boundaries in which the theory is

expected to apply, (4) specifying the system

states in which the theoretical system operates,

(5) articulating the propositions, comprising the

logical deductions or truth statements about the

theory in operation, (6) determining the

developed?; and, 2) Can

&dquo;A Theory

empirical indicators





propositions and therefore the theory testable, (7) identifying the hypotheses, that is, the

statements about the predicted values and

relationships among the units, and (8) testing the predicted values and relationships.

Dubin’s (1978) methodology for applied theory building is complex and extremely

detailed -- so much so that a full discussion of

the philosophical reasoning underlying the

method is not practical in the context of this

article. This article proceeds in sections that

theory building

and overview

descriptions of the steps are provided drawing

from Dubin with as much detail as space

permits. For a full discussion of the intricacies,

of quantitative theory building in applied

detail each


of the


methodology in Figure

disciplines, please refer to Dubin (1978).

A theory of Responsible Leadership for

Performance (RLP) is a general, integrative

of leadership that

theoretical framework





challenges of

leadership that are both responsible and focused

on performance. Two core premises govern the

framework. The first--that leadership is itself


Figure 1: Dubin’s Two-part, Eight-step Theory Building Methodology

a system consisting of purposeful, integrated

inputs, processes, outputs, feedback and boundaries. The second--that leadership takes

place within a performance system, that is, a

system of joint, coordinated and purposeful action. Leadership can therefore be conceived of as a system of interacting inputs, processes, outputs, and feedback that derive meaning, direction and purpose from the larger performance system and environment within




From this perspective,

leadership is defined as: a focused system of

interacting inputs, process, outputs and feedback

wherein individuals andlor groups influence andlor act on behalf of specific individuals or groups of individuals to achieve shared goals

and commonly desired performance outcomes,

within a specific performance system and


We also think it important to defme the term &dquo;ethical&dquo; as it is used throughout this article

as a further descriptor when we present the

notion of responsible leadership. The American

Heritage College Dictionary defmes ethical as 1)

&dquo;involving or expressing moral approval or

disapproval&dquo; and 2) &dquo;conforming to accepted

professional standards of conduct&dquo; (2002, p.


While we

imply that both of these

components are important to the discussion of

&dquo;responsible leadership,&dquo; we would like to stress

importance on the former. That is, when we

present leadership as a system involving the

consideration of the people within that system,

their interpretation of what is responsible and as

focused on an agreed important output, we

suggest that this group will define &dquo;responsible&dquo;

behavior in a way that involves morality. Again,

the constituency is believed to define what is

moral according to the negotiations of the




collectively form



The units of a theory are the concepts of the

theory--the basic ideas that make up the theory

(Cohen, 1991; Dubin, 1978; Reynolds, 1971).

The units represent the things about which the

researcher is trying to make sense and are

informed by literature (knowledge of) and

experience (knowledge about) (Lynham, 2002a).

The units can be plainly defined as the building

blocks of the theory or the elements that come

together in the theory.

The three units of the theoretical framework

of RLP are: considerations of constituency; a


framework of responsibleness; and domains of

performance (see Figure 2). The units interact to

form the inputs, process and outputs to the

leadership system that is the essence of the

theoretical framework. Each unit is further

distinguished by conceptual dimensions.

Considerations of constituency (the input) include three conceptual dimensions: whether

the constituency (a) resides inside or outside the

performance system; (b) has high or low

authority over the performance system; and (c)

has the potential for high or low impact on the

performance system.



framework of



(the process)

conceptual dimensions: (a) effective leadership

practices; (b) ethical leadership habits; and (c) enduring leadership resources. The third unit,

domains of perfo~mance (the output), consists of

four conceptual dimensions: (a) the system

mission; (b) the work process/es; (c) the social

sub-systems; and (d) the individual performer.

A brief discussion of each unit follows.

Figure 2: RLP: The Units of the Theoretical Framework

Unit 1: Considerations of Constituency

Leadership does not exist on its own, but rather in reciprocity to constituency, sometimes referred to as followship. It is the constituency that gives voice and purpose to leadership--that

allows the individual and/or group to stand up as

one (Bass, 1985, 1990; Bennis, Parikh, &

Lessem, 1994; Block, 1993; Corderio, 2003;

Kelley, 1992; Kouzes & Posner, 1995; Lynham,

1998, 2000d; Odom & Green, 2003; Perreault,

1997; Terry, 1993).

Leadership does not exist in isolation.

Without followship there is no


(Autry, 1991; Bass, 1990; Block, 1993; Gardner,

Posner, 1995;

1990; Kelley, 1992; Kouzes &


1997; Perreault,



phenomenon of leadership comes about as a

result of a need to pursue desired outcomes, that

is, to achieve goals desired by stakeholders

located both inside and outside a

specific performance system (Beauchamp & Bowie,

1997; Holton, 1999; Frooman, 1999; Trevion,

Brown & Hartman, 2003).

Every performance




constituency that represents those whom

leadership in the performance system serves, and

for whom the leadership produces desired results

(Freeman, 1997; Frooman, 1999; Gardner, 1990;

Gibson, Ivancevich


Donnelly, 1994;

Greenleaf, 1997; Jones & Wicks, 1999; Kelley,

1992; Milgrom & Roberts, 1992; Ulrich, Zenger,

& Smallwood, 1999). As a result, considerations

of constituency, forms the

first, catalyzing, and

input unit of the theoretical framework of RLP.

Unit 2: A Framework of Responsibleness

The word responsible is associated with

words like answerable, liable, accountable,

amenable, reliable, dependable, trustworthy, and

care. These terms share the meaning of &dquo;being

obliged to answer


for one’s actions



authority that may impose a penalty for failure&dquo;

(American Heritage Dictionary, 1992, p. 1537).

The notion of responsibleness is associated with professional action, that is, action that is &dquo;based on careful, reflective thought about which

response is professionally right in a particular

situation&dquo; (Tennyson & Strom, 1986, p. 298). White Newman (1993, as cited in Lynham,

1998, p. 211 ) offers a workable and appealing framework for responsible leadership. &dquo;Too

often&dquo;, says




writings and practice have emphasized how to

be effective. They need to embrace much more

than this singular focus&dquo;. White Newman aptly describes the logic of the framework of

responsible leadership as follows:

Being solely concerned with effect seems

inadequate, potentially even dangerous, since it

is obvious that a person can be effective--that is,

make a difference--yet also be unethical.

Knowing the harm such people can cause, I believe most of us want leaders who, because

they are ethical, will make beneficial differences to the world. Too often, in these stressful times, individuals who are effective and ethical survive

as leaders for a brief time. They do not endure. Some are replaced by external factors. Others

cave in under the pressure of leadership--they

bum out. So endurance becomes essential to

leadership. Endurance encompasses refreshment

for leaders and renewal for their groups [and

systems]. (cited in Lynham, 1998, p.)

Leadership that is responsible is that which

demonstrates, and is judged to demonstrate, effectiveness, ethics, and endurance (DePree

1989, 1997, Trevion, Brown & Hartman, 2003;

White Newman,

1993), and are


components of responsible leadership. What

constitutes these 3E’s is determined by the

constituency of the performance system in

which the leadership occurs



Beauchamp &

Bowie, 1997; Brady, 1985;

Freudberg, 1986; Frooman, 1999; Jones &

Wicks, 1999; Khuntia &

Suar, 2004; Knapp &






Anastasiou, 2005). It is this framework of


responsibleness that constitutes the second unit of the theoretical framework of RLP.

Luthan’s (2001; 2002; 2003) work on the role of hope and its impact on leaders is the

closest that we have found to what we mean

through the use of the term responsible. In

several studies

involving relatively large

samples, Luthans has been able to suggest that

high-hope leaders are generally able to foster

more productive and more enjoyable work

environments (2003). The significance of this

work seems to suggest that what we might call

responsible leaders (and what Luthans might

call hopeful), are leaders that communicate

frequently with their co-workers, and for whom those co-workers enjoy coming to work.

Unit 3: Domains of Performance

According to The American Heritage Dictionary (1992), performance is about

carrying something through to completion, that

&dquo;to perform







undertaking, or a procedure&dquo; and that the word

&dquo;often connotes observance of due form or the

exercise of skill or care&dquo; (p. 1345). From these

descriptions, performance must be seen to have

two parts: &dquo;an activity and the outcome of that

activity&dquo; (Dean, 1997, p. 72). Performance also

occurs within a context of requirements, that is, according to the requirements of a particular

performance system and audience.

Each performance system therefore defines

performance to fit and serve its unique needs

(Collins &

Ivanevich &

Porras, 1994; Dean, 1997; Gibson,

Donnelly, 1994; Holton, 1999;

Kolvitz, 1997; Passmore, 1997; Rummler &

Brach, 1995; Tosti &

Jackson, 1992; Von






performance of a system is multidimensional.

Four commonly identified and significant

domains of performance include the system

mission and purpose, the work process/es, the

social sub-systems, and the individual performer






Ivancevich & Donnelley, 1994; Holton, 1999;

Mintzberg, 1994a, 1994b; Rummler & Brache, 1995; Swanson, 1996; Swanson & Holton, 1999; Tichy, 1983, 1997; Wimbiscus, 1995). It is these

multiple domains of performance that form the third unit of the theoretical framework of RLP.

It is a common misconception that a focus on performance implies a focus on financial


measures. Given this assumption, a common

issue with the premises we have argued relates to how one can be both responsible and focused

on performance. To clarify this point, we stress

that what makes for &dquo;performance&dquo; is defined by

the constituency. For example, an educational

institution or non-profit organization would

define performance differently than that of a for

profit organization. Habitat for Humanity might measure performance in terms of the number of

houses built, while a fortune 500 might focus on

stock performance and building shareholder

value. The point to be made here is that our vision is for leadership is that it is done

responsibly (drawing from moral norms agreed


by the constituency) and that it is

performance-based (aims toward the

achievement of some output agreed on by the


Laws of Interaction

The laws of interaction, of which there are

a number of kinds/types, describe the interaction

among the units of a theory (Dubin, 1978). The

laws of interaction among the three units of the

theoretical framework of RLP include four

categoric laws and three sequential laws. &dquo;A

categoric law of interaction is one that states that

values of a unit are associated with values of

another unit&dquo; (Dubin, 1978, p. 98), while a

sequential law is defined as

employing a time dimension. The

time dimension is used to order the relationship

among two or more units&dquo; (p. 101 ).

According to Dubin’s methodology, &dquo;all units are linked with categoric laws, as a change in any unit will provoke a change in at least one other unit&dquo; (Chermack, 2005, p. 824).

&dquo; always

that is


Furthermore, &dquo;all units are also linked with sequential laws to denote the importance of the time element&dquo; (p. 824). The theoretical

framework of RLP

does not include any

determinate laws and appoints considerations of

constituency as the catalyst unit, that is, the unit





is required for

interaction in the theoretical [framework]&dquo;

Figure 3: The Laws of Interaction in the Theoretical Framework of RLP

(Chermack, 2005, p. 824). The laws of

interaction of the theoretical framework of RLP are illustrated in Figure 3.


Establishing the









specification of the domain or

domains in which


the framework is expected to operate (Dubin,

1978). Boundaries help locate the theoretical framework in the environment with which the

theory is concerned (Chermack, 2005), and

require that the theorist makes the logic used to

determine them explicit (see Figure 4). The

boundaries of the theoretical framework of RLP are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: The Boundaries of the Theoretical Framework of RLP



three boundaries



theoretical framework of RLP: 1) a leadership

sub-system boundary 2) a performance system

boundary, and 3) the contextual environment

boundary. All boundaries in the theoretical

framework are open boundaries, denoted by the

dashed lines in Figure 5, indicating that the

leadership (sub)system continuously exchanges

information and resources with the performance

system domain in which it occurs and with the larger exterior environmental domain acting on

the performance system. Informed by the logic

of general systems theory (Senge, 1990) and

existing work


leadership as process,

responsible leadership for performance is

positioned as a focused (sub)system within a larger performance system and context, as

indicated in Figure 6.

A common issue in theory building is in

differentiating the units of the theory from the

boundaries. For example, in this theory building

exercise, it may be tempting to inquire about the

difference between



&dquo;domains of

performance&dquo; and the boundary of performance


systems. It is generally helpful to keep in mind

that the unit refers to the item that is present in

the theory, and the boundary can be considered

the limiting element of that unit. For example,

this framework of responsible leadership

requires that individuals, groups, processes, and

the organization meet some performance

requirements (usually those specified in the system or organization), but the notion of a

performance system boundary is meant to

suggest the space in which this performance

must take place.

System States

Dubin (1978, 1981) defined a system state

as a condition of the system being modeled in which all the units of the system take on

characteristic values that have persistence

through time, regardless of the length of the time

interval. All units of the system being modeled have values that are determinant, meaning they

are measurable and distinctive for that state of

the system.

A system state that accurately represents a

condition of the system of RLP being modeled

has three important characteristics, namely:

inclusiveness (&dquo;where all the units of the system

are included in the system state&dquo;), persistence (&dquo;where the system state persists through some meaningful period of time&dquo;), and distinctiveness

(&dquo;where all units take on unique values for that

system state&dquo;) (Dubin, 1978; Toracco, 2000,




theoretical framework


conceptualizes leadership as a (sub)system, and

has four system states which it transitions between. Borrowing from Chermack (2005), and to illustrate the differing states of the RLP

system, the theoretical framework uses a 0;1 1

coding, where 0 &dquo;represents none of the thing or

characteristic under examination&dquo; (p. 825)--

meaning there



considerations of

constituency and therefore there is no leadership

system in operation. According to the time-

sequence embedded in the laws of interaction,

actions regarding specific units precede actions

regarding others. &dquo;As the system transitions from state to state, the unit values shift from 0 to


demonstrating that as each unit value shifts,

the [theoretical framework] transitions from one

state to the next (Chermack 2005, p. 825). The

four system states of the theoretical framework

of RLP are: (1) non-operation--where all units

of 0; (2) identification of




considerations of constituency--where unit 1=1,

units 2 and 3= 0; (3) determining requirements of responsible leadership--where unit 1=1, unit

2=1, unit 3 =0; and (4) determining and

assessing performance and implications--where

all units = 1, and the leadership system is fully operational. When in a fully operational state,

feedback based on performance becomes an

input to the leadership units and begins the

process again, from either point.

Having completed the first four steps of


theory building methodology, a

complete and informed theoretical framework of

RLP can now be made explicit (see Figure 5).

This theoretical framework satisfies phase one of the General Method of theory building

research and indicates that the conceptual

development of the theoretical framework of




completed (Dubin,


Lynham, 2002a, 2000b; Torraco, 1974, 2000).

Another common