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Are Your Leadership Practices Proven?

January 23, 2014
Imagine that you are at a hospital seeking treatment for a serious ailment, and your doctor makes a diagnosis based on gut feeling, tangential experiences and information gleaned from vendors’ promotional materials. Surely you would prefer your doctor to instead make a diagnosis based on up-to-date independent research, clinical trials and information published in medical journals.

Now imagine yourself part of an important project at work, and your boss is leading the team based on assumptions, long-standing (but never proven) traditions and outdated experiences. Just like with your doctor, wouldn’t you expect performance and outcomes to be better if your boss based actions and leadership upon clear and consistent findings from management studies, best practices based on research findings, and recent professional educational courses?

These distinctions highlight an evidence-based approach to decision-making and actions. While intuition may have some use in certain situations, studies have clearly shown that, in the long run, an evidence-based perspective fosters enhanced results and performance. Unfortunately, the bad news is that only about 15 percent of doctors’ decisions are evidence-based, and managers most likely use evidence-based perspectives at an even lower rate. While these statistics are disheartening, the good news is that individuals can easily begin to take steps to incorporate more evidence-based perspectives into their work-related roles.

To foster these steps, a main focus of Drexel LeBow’s Institute for Strategic Leadership (ISL) is to advance an evidence-based perspective to leadership.This approach is cultivated through the promotion of leadership development and practices based on evidence from leading scientific research produced by LeBow faculty and other global scholars.

As a cornerstone of the Institute, we believe that clear, verifiable support will help leaders diagnose preconceived ideas and assumptions that may not be accurate, and replace them with practices that have been proven to be effective. Research findings often run contrary to conventional wisdom. For instance, research has clearly shown that typical job interviews are a relatively ineffective approach to selecting and hiring employees; employee pay is not strongly related to job satisfaction; and introverted leaders often perform better than extroverted leaders, depending on the type of team they lead.

LeBow faculty affiliated with ISL conduct research that enables leaders to quickly and accurately determine what type of leadership works and what doesn’t in a variety of settings and situations. Here are several examples of takeaways that can be gleaned from our findings:

Leaders must foster alignment for employee well-being Jeff Greenhaus and colleagues found that leaders’ family-supportive supervisory behaviors has a positive effect on employees’ work-family balance, but only when paired with complementary behaviors from the organization and spouse.

Leaders need to be aware of abusive supervision when they are facing difficult challenges Mary Mawritz and colleagues found that assigning increasingly difficult job goals to leaders results in increased levels of abusive behaviors toward their subordinates.

Personality impacts leadership Christian Resick and colleagues illustrated that individuals’ positive and negative personality traits have differential effects of leadership behaviors and styles.

When a team is diverse, focus on task-related functions My colleagues and I found that when leading a heterogeneous team, task-focused leadership reduces team conflict, whereas relational focus leadership enhances it.

Just like how relying on evidence will result in better diagnoses by your doctor, incorporating these findings and other evidence from ISL into your approach to leading will result in beneficial outcomes for you and your organization.

Jonathan Ziegert, Ph.D., is an associate professor of management and the academic director of the Institute for Strategic Leadership. For more information about ISL and the research cited in this article, please visit

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