FU, TSUI, LIU, & LI (2010). PURSUIT OF WHOSE HAPPINESS? EXECUTIVE LEADERS’ TRANSFORMATIONAL BEHAVIORS AND PERSONAL VALUES

Author:

Ping Ping Fu – The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Anne S. Tsui – Arizona State University/Peking University

Jun Liu – Renmin University of China

Lan Li – Chinese Entrepreneur Survey System

Interviewers:

Huisi (Jessica) Li – Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management

Wei Wang – University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management

Article link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2189/asqu.2010.55.2.222

Question 1: This paper has the interesting finding that CEOs’ values may either enhance or attenuate the effect of transformational leadership behaviors on followers depending on followers’ reactions to the congruence or incongruence between leaders’ internal values and their outward transformational behaviors. As we know, transformational leadership has dominated the leadership literature. How were you able to find this novel angle to study such a well-established construct? Would you please share with us how the research idea was developed and how it evolved along the way? Did the uniqueness of the Chinese context contribute to this idea?

The idea dates back to when we were doing the Project Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE), for which a set of leadership attributes and behaviors were labeled as value-based although values were not measured. However, while doing interviews for that project, we noticed that some of the leaders who appeared fitting “transformational profile” seemed to have very clear self-transcendent values, but other transformational leaders had values that were more self-enhancing. Therefore, we suspected that transformational leaders might not all hold self-transcendent values. The explicit connection between leaders’ values and their behaviors evolved as we reviewed the literature on transformational leadership. We discovered the twist upon careful reading of the literature – Burns (1978) started with explicit “moral foundation” for transformational leadership, but Bass (1985) did not think a moral foundation was needed. Bass changed his mind a few years later when he came up with the “pseudo transformational leadership” (Bass and Steidlmeier, 1999) idea to describe those leaders who behave transformationally but hold self-enhancing values.

The Chinese culture, being extremely moral-driven, offered an ideal context to test that relationship because all leaders – regardless of the levels – are expected to hold self-transcendent values. The expectations go higher as the leaders’ levels go higher. However, our ideas benefited greatly from an extremely developmental editor who helped us in formulating the clear argument we finally made in the paper.

Question 2: This paper is a great example of employing mixed methods (i.e., Q-sort, interviews, and surveys). How did you decide which methods to use? Did you decide on the mixed-method approach a priori or did the approach evolve during the research process? What challenges did you face regarding the use of mixed methods?

We were aware of the difficulty in measuring values using traditional survey methods, so from the very beginning, we decided to avoid using the method to measure personal values. We got the inspiration from O’Reilly, Chatman and Caldwell’s (1991) paper in which the sorting method was used to measure organizational cultural values, but we made it more interesting by integrating the Q-sort method with the normal distribution—forcing the participants to sort the items (each item on a card) into 9 piles with the middle holding the largest number of items, and then decreased the numbers of items equally on both sides of the distribution. That method forced the participants to think hard to sort out the most important as well as the least important values. However, the sorting method only gave us the structure of a person’s values. So, we also conducted lengthy interviews. Knowing that values affect people’s attitudes and behaviors, we believed we could determine leaders’ real values by asking them about their attitudes toward life and leadership as well as describing their leadership behavior. We spent as much time as the leader was willing to give us and listened to them telling stories about how they got into the leadership position, their purposes of leadership, and the most important things to them in life. Coding the information they provided revealed patterns of their values. We were able to match the Q-sort data with the coding results. The final part of the paper—asking the middle managers to identify their CEO’s values was a response to the editor’s request that we validate our assumption of the observability of a person’s internal values, which we will elaborate in our answer to the next question.

Question 3: The dataset in Study 2 is rich and impressive with 605 middle managers, 177 top managers, and 42 CEOs. Would you please provide any advice and tips on collecting data (especially interviews and surveys) from middle and top management in organizations? What are the challenges and what should researchers do to gain the most insights from these participants?

Our sample came from two sources, as described in the paper. We benefited from the relationships we had built with some of the companies we had worked with earlier or through the referrals by friends and colleagues. We also benefited from having connections to the Survey Center for which the last co-author was serving as the director at the time. However, acquiring access is only one step, how to win the trust of the CEOs and getting them to open up their hearts to you is quite another. A successful interview requires good interview skills first to establish the rapport, then to guide the CEO in doing the sorting of the value cards in a serious but enjoyable manner, and finally to get them to discuss the two rather serious questions: the purpose of leadership, and goals of life. The conversation was both pragmatic and philosophical. This requires a mature researcher to hold an interesting and engaging conversation with the CEO. Most of the middle manager participants filled out a survey, and a small number of them received a short telephone interview from us to confirm the CEO’s values.

One challenge that we had to overcome is our assumption that followers could detect the internal values of a leader. The editor challenged us to find a way to provide some evidence on this assumption about the observer’s ability to detect the CEO’s values. We thought of a way, but the possibility of finding a correspondence was very slim because of the distance (two levels below) and time (it had been more than three years since we collected the original data from the CEOs). However, the leaders and followers were still the same people, so we hoped that that followers (even those who were two levels below) could detect their leaders’ values and we could not think of any other ways to replace that method. We selected 16 items (words/phrases), eight measuring the self-transcendent and eight measuring the self-enhancement values, which we listed in random order on a single sheet of paper. We faxed the items with a simple instruction to the HR managers of the companies and asked them to give the sheet to the middle managers whom we would call later. At the beginning of the telephone interview, we asked the middle manager to circle five items that were most descriptive of his or her CEO. Following that, we asked the manager to give two to three specific examples to support his or her choices. Both the interviewer and the middle managers were blind to the value orientation of the CEO. Fortunately, we were able to show that the descriptions of the CEO by the middle managers (based on a very small sample of nine middle managers) corresponded to the self-description of the CEO from three years earlier. This shows not only detectability of another person’s internal values but also the stability of personal values.

The most important lesson from this study for us is that one must start with a meaningful question guided by a meaningful theory. Then, rigor in data collection and measurement will contribute to a solid study with interesting results.

Question 4: You examined how CEOs’ leadership behaviors interact with leader traits to influence their followers. A recent stream of leadership research on the actor-centric perspective focuses on how leader behaviors influence leaders themselves. In your opinion, how would transformational leader behaviors influence transformational leaders who enact these behaviors? 

This is an interesting question and clearly can be another meaningful study. Do transformational leaders enjoy a higher level of well-being themselves? Do they enjoy greater career success? Our guess is that transformational leaders would have different personal outcomes depending on their personal values and motives for their behaviors. This can be derived logically from our behavior-value fit hypothesis. For those who are genuine and authentic, whose values and behaviors are in alignment, they should enjoy a more peaceful mind and a higher level of subjective well-being than those with incongruence in behaviors and values. In general, based on cross-cultural leadership studies like the GLOBE project and our own experience, leaders who are consistent in words and behavior (or in values and behavior) and who have a high level of integrity should be universally respected. However, we would like to offer a suggestion. Given there are so many important problems in the world, including the changing nature of jobs, new economies, corruption, inequality, job stress, and sustainability, we would encourage scholars to devote their talents to analyzing problems that are consequential to the world of business and management. While transformational leader’s well-being is interesting and important, we also encourage exploring colleagues to connect their own societal values when examining why and how transformational leaders influence the well-being of others like employees, customers, or communities.

Question 5: Do you think that the same findings would generalize to other contexts, e.g., other countries with different values, other leadership levels, or even a different generation of workforce, all of which may create different expectations about leadership? For example, as the Generation-Y and Millennials start to become CEOs (e., especially in start-ups), their behaviors and values may be different from those of the CEOs in your sample. Moreover, the business environment is increasingly dynamic. Do you think leaders may need to adjust leadership styles in accordance with the business environment and the traits of their followers? Moreover, how would leaders’ values influence this?  

These are excellent questions, which can be topics for research as well. As we have expressed above, we believe that leaders with self-transcendent values are generally more respected and more trustworthy, and this might be universal. Further, we can’t imagine that followers would not expect their leaders to hold self-transcendent values. Self-transcending leaders are likely to be more respectful of employee’s human dignity and well-being. They are more likely to see work as the opportunity for employees to experience meaning and to offer contributions. We dare to conjecture that transformational leaders with self-transcendent values should appeal to employees in all cultures and for all generations. These leaders will realize the negative consequences of treating employees as tools to maximize profits. Leaders who set high aspirational goals, emphasize collective interests, make the connection between the success of the individual and the collective, give followers the opportunity to excel and contribute will create a sustainable organization.

Question 6: This paper is non-standard in multiple ways, e.g., mixed methods, Chinese context, and containing both constructs that leadership researchers may be familiar (e.g., transformational leadership) and unfamiliar (e.g., self-enhancement vs. self-transcendent values) with. Do any of these characteristics lead to any unexpected challenges in the review process? How has this paper evolved during the review process? What reviewers’ comments helped strengthen the paper the most and in what ways? Any interesting stories behind the review process or behind developing this paper in general?

The editor deserves much credit for the development of this paper. She believed in the importance of the topic from the beginning and worked very closely with us. We were not very explicit about the relationship between transformational behavior and the leader’s personal values at first, but the many rounds of revisions enabled us to clarify the ideas. She gave us very specific guidance in the early pages of the paper to make the idea clear from the beginning. We had more than one phone conversation with her. She is definitely the most developmental editor that all the authors of this paper had experienced.

In addition to verifying the observability of values by followers that we mentioned above, there is one more issue that went through a metamorphosis during the review process. In the beginning, we considered the Chinese context as unique because the society values self-less leadership due to Confucianism and Communist ideology. However, the editor convinced us that self-less leadership is important in many societies, including the USA. She encouraged us to make the theory context-general.

A further area that she helped us to refine is the measurement of transformational leadership behavior. We used the “charismatic leadership” scale by Waldman et al. (2001). She pointed out that this measure includes some value statements as well. To cleanly separate values from behavior, she suggested that we remove the value items in the leadership scale. We did that but test the hypotheses using the original scale as a robustness check. The results are in fact better with the revised scale that includes only the behavioral items.

We feel that this editor exemplifies the highest level of developmental editing that many journals aspire to offer.

Thank you for the questions, which brought back memories of the paper. We feel fortunate to have such a memorable experience about the whole study, and hope our readers find the answers helpful.

References

Bass, B. M. 1985. Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectation. Collier McMillan.

Bass, B. M., and P. Steidlmeier. 1999. “Ethics, character and authentic transformational leadership behavior.” Leadership Quarterly, 10: 181–217.

Burns, J. M. 1978. Leadership. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

O’Reilly, C. A., J. A. Chatman, and D. F. Caldwell. 1991. “People and organizational culture: A profile comparison approach to assessing person-organization fit.” Academy of Management Journal, 34: 487–516.

Waldman, D., G. Ramirez, R. J. House, and P. Puranam. 2001. “Does leadership matter? CEO leadership attributes and profitability under conditions of perceived environmental uncertainty.” Academy of Management Journal, 44: 134–143.

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