Charisma-challenged? You can still be a good boss

April 18, 2017

EAST LANSING, Mich. - You don't need the charisma of Steve Jobs to be an effective boss, indicates new research led by Michigan State University business scholars.

In a series of five studies, the researchers found bosses who were supportive and set clear expectations -- but weren't necessarily transformational leaders with grand visions -- were able to effectively motivate their employees.

The study, published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, is one of the first to examine how a leader's regulatory focus, or mindset, affects his or her own behavior and, in turn, employees' motivation.

The findings suggest bosses can modify their mindset to produce a certain outcome from workers, whether that's innovation or a more conservative work focus aimed at meeting basic obligations and preventing errors, said Brent Scott, MSU professor of management and study co-author.

"Effective leadership may be based in part on leader's ability to recognize when a particular mental state is needed in their employees and to adapt their own mental state and their behaviors to elicit that mindset," Scott said. "Part of the story here is that you don't have to be Steve Jobs to be an effective leader. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing."

The research team, led by Russell Johnson, MSU associate professor of management, conducted field studies and experiments with hundreds of managers and employees from a variety of industries including professional services, manufacturing and government.

Bosses who had an innovative mindset (called promotion focus) were more likely to lead in a transformative way and thus elicit an innovative mindset among employees. Bosses with a more conservative mindset (called prevention focus) were more likely to "manage by exception," which involves focusing almost exclusively on preventing mistakes, thus eliciting a prevention focus among workers.

"We found that the motivations of managers are contagious and 'trickle down' to their subordinates," Johnson said. "Thus, if managers are unhappy with how their people are approaching work tasks, the managers might actually be the ones responsible for eliciting their motivation in the first place. Managers can modify their leadership behavior to trigger the appropriate motivation orientation in their employees to fit the situation."

While the study identified some transformational leaders who elicited an innovative mindset among employees, Scott said it's unrealistic to think that every boss can be - or necessarily wants to be - a transformational leader all of the time. Some work situations and environments may call for a more preventative approach.

A sweet spot for managing may be what's called "contingent reward behavior," which brings in both a promotion and prevention focus -- emphasizing gains and providing both positive and negative reinforcement based on performance.

"The contingent approach is quid pro quo -- if you do this, I'll give you that," Scott said. "It's not sexy like transformational leadership, but it's something that just about every manager can do because it doesn't require you to ooze charisma."

Michigan State University

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to