This article is a review of the literature and serves as a theoretical framework that helps shed light about experiences of interpersonal connections of leaders in the workplace. Literature from several fields within leadership that influences the area of inquiry related to interpersonal connections and emotions of leaders will be discussed. In conclusion, a summary of the literature reviewed will be provided and discussion of how a greater depth of research should be performed to fill the knowledge gap.
What made you feel connected to a leader? What created the connection? What were you aware of in that invisible space between you and the leader? This paper is an exploration of an area of inquiry about the relationship between interpersonal connections and leadership. Additionally, this paper discusses concepts like emotions, emotional and mood contagion, emotional intelligence, the discipline of neuroscience, and several leadership theories in relation to interpersonal connections, specifically dyadic relationships between a leader and another, in the workplace. First, a brief background of the origination of the area of inquiry is provided.
There are poignant memories of watching my deceased, special needs and nonverbal son, Joey, ride a horse during therapeutic horseback-riding lessons. Even though it wasn’t possible to interview my son, the connection observed between my son and the horse was intensely palpable. The quality of that connection positively transformed Joey.
My son sat up straight on the horse instead of his normal slouch and seemed to communicate he was proud and happy. He made direct eye contact with me, which was unusual due to his autistic-like behaviors. Also, he possessed a smile that warmed my heart. That connection transformed Joey in a way that it brought him out from the inner world he normally operated in into the world around him.
That experience ignited a personal curiosity and desire to understand more about connections. A curiosity to know more about what was going on in that nonverbal space between my son and the horse. How would Joey have described that connection experience?
From a professional perspective, the workplace affords me the opportunity to consult and engage with all levels of leaders. Like the experience of my son, there is a desire to understand more about leaders’ experiences of interpersonal connections, specifically those within a dyadic relationship. I’ve witnessed many dyadic relationships involving leaders where it seemed a connection existed. However, was the connection a result of the positive affect expressed by the leader? What was the leader aware of in that space between them and the other? These are just a couple of questions that create a desire to know more. What is a connection?
Definitions of Connection
There are people we encounter in life that we feel a pull toward, or connection with; sometimes the connection is instantaneous and other times the connection takes longer to develop. In the workplace, we develop connections with leaders as well.
Building productive relationships is a critical element of leadership. Karlene Kerfoot (2003) asserts that when leaders develop a unique, successful style or brand of leadership that meets people’s expectations an emotional connection is created based on that leader’s brand. Rishabh Rai and Anand Prakash (2012) state in our current market leader-follower relationships are void of caring relationships and act more as a transaction. Daniel Goleman (2002) argues that we depend on connections for emotional stability
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), two definitions of connection are germane to my area of inquiry:
The condition of being related to something else by a bond of interdependence, causality, logical sequence, coherence, or the like; relation between things one of which is bound up with, or involved in, another.
A person who is connected with others by ties of any kind; esp. a relative by marriage or distant consanguinity. (http://resources.ciis.edu:2169/view/Entry/39356?redirectedFrom=connection#eid)
The references to ‘a bond of interdependence’ and ‘ties’ help explain the relationship between a leader and another where an interpersonal connection exists. Using quantum physics, Lynne McTaggart (2011) defines connection as the space between things; the world functions as a result of the space between things, not as separate things. It is the coming together in the spaces between a leader and another that this study will inquire further into.
Within leadership discourse, both Lee Colan (2009) and John Maxwell (2007) share similar understandings of connections. When leaders engage the hearts of employees they meet the need for intimacy; intimacy creates connection (Colan 2009). Engaging the heart is similar to John Maxwell’s (2007) leadership theory, Law of Connection, that leaders use emotion to connect with others. These definitions of connections help one understand more about connections and how leaders create them, however there seems to be a gap in the literature that discusses the experiences of the interpersonal connections with leaders.
In an article about how to cultivate a service brand with regard to marketing Leonard Berry (2000) states that great brands create an emotional connection with an audience. Further, that an emotional connection with that brand sparks feelings of closeness, affection, and trust. When a leader creates emotional connections with those they lead they are in essence creating a brand or style of leadership that is more effective than those leaders who don’t create emotional connection.
Based on the above discussion of definitions of connections and for the purpose of this paper, the type of connection referred to is a connection within a dyadic relationship where emotion is expressed in a way that results in a tie or bond of interdependence between a leader and another. This is an emotion that produces feelings of closeness, affection, and trust of a leader. As Rishabh Rai and Anand Prakash (2012) assert leaders are to, “promote a humanistic environment that does not hinder the prospect of human creativity, expression, and relationships” (72). Next, literature related to emotions with leaders and leadership is explored.
Emotions, Leaders, and Leadership
Emotions reside in relationships whether we are aware of them or not. In the workplace, how leaders display and manage their emotions can determine whether people will follow them. It is an assumption that leaders’ emotions will not only affect the quality of relationships between them and their followers, but productivity as well.
First, what is an emotion? According to Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990), an emotion is an “organized response” that usually arises in response to an internal or external event (186). Consequently, the emotion will have a positive or negative meaning.
Ronald Humphrey (2002) shares that for leaders who manage with emotion, possessing the trait of empathy is an important one. Further, he states several other leadership researchers share that empathy is a good predictor of leadership and plays an important role in the emergence of leadership. Therefore, is the absence of empathy an indication of poor or ineffective leadership? Can someone be a leader and not show empathy? Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) define empathy as, “the ability to comprehend another’s feelings and to re-experience them oneself” (194).
Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) additionally share that appraising one’s own feelings and others are highly related, meaning they are interdependent. Can empathy be learned or is one born with it? Are there are other traits in addition to empathy that create an effective leader? How does empathy play a role in interpersonal connections?
Neal Ashkanasy and Ronald Humphrey (2011) review current research of emotions in organizational behavior. They share that studying emotions in the workplace ignited only within the last 15 years and engage in a review of Ashkanasy’s five-level model of emotion in organizations. The integrated model analyzes emotions from five different levels: 1) within a person, 2) individual differences between persons, 3) interpersonal relations, 4) groups and teams, and 5) organizational. This five-level model of emotion is shared for the reasons discussed next.
Level three of the model focuses on the display and communication of emotion in dyadic relations, and that emotions play a critical role in communication. Neal Ashkanasy and Ronald Humphrey (2011) share that studies revealed that expressions of emotions are recognized across cultures, and additional studies found that people within the same culture identified emotions more accurately. However, people differ in ability of how they recognize emotions and nonverbal expressions.
Could it be that those people of the same culture as the leader and who shows positive emotion experience an interpersonal connection with the leader? Additionally, if a connection occurs, does it occur consciously or unconsciously? Could they articulate the emotions that attributed to the connection?
Level five talks about an emotional climate that conglomerates at an organization level and is palpably sensed. Neal Ashkanasy and Ronald Humphrey (2011) share how emotions accumulated from the lower levels should create a climate that contains positive emotions and sustained throughout an organization. Is this emotional climate also palpably sensed in level three, dyadic relationships? Again, what are the emotions that make up the emotional climate and what is the affect of those emotions in dyadic relationships?
Neal Ashkanasy and Ronald Humphreys’s (2010) five-level model of emotion in organization was shared and discussed to emphasize the relation of emotions to leaders and leadership. Specifically, that leaders’ display and expression of emotion in dyadic relationships, level three of the model, is directly related to the emotional climate created and accumulated at level five of the model. Next, leader’s affect of emotions and moods on others is discussed.
Emotional and Mood Contagion
Victoria Visser, et al (2013) share in their research on leader displays of emotions that leader affect, moods, and emotions is an essential issue in understanding how leaders influence followers. In contrast to emotion, according to Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) mood has a longer duration and is less intense. Victoria Visser, et al (2013) state researchers defined affect as feeling states ranging from a variety of moods lasting a long time, to specific, acute emotions lasting a short time. Therefore, emotional and mood contagion results from observing another’s affect and automatically mimicking and synchronizing what they observed.
Several studies demonstrate that leader affect is contagious. Thomas Sy, et al’s (2005) experimental design study on the effects of leaders’ mood of individual group members reveals that people interacting with leaders in a positive mood experienced more positive moods than negative. Thomas Sy, et al’s (2005) experimental design study involves using 56 self-managing groups where the leader is randomly selected from within each group; a leader is defined as someone with the appropriate knowledge, skills, abilities, and traits for a specific task. Leaders were observed and evaluated on their moods pre and post group tasks. However, Thomas Sy, et al (2005) indicate further research is needed to see if followers’ moods are transmitted to the leaders.
Similarly, Victoria Visser, et al (2013) shared that several empirical studies proved that when people are exposed to a leader exhibiting positive affect experience a more positive state themselves than those exposed to a leader expressing negative affect. Victoria Visser, et al (2013) expanded the notion further of studying the influence of positive and negative leader affect by examining positive and negative leader affect on follower performance. They asserted that leader affect, positive and negative, on follower performance however is dependent on the task performed. Below is a discussion of their study.
Victoria Visser, et al (2013) conduct two experiments in which the displays of leader affect, specifically happiness and sadness are manipulated and the performance of the research participants is assessed. Victoria Visser, et al (2013) state that researchers’ Russell & Barrett in 1999 discover that being happy and sad are basic universal emotions and frequently experienced affective states and are therefore assumed to be emotions frequently experienced by leaders. The types of tasks compared in the experiments were creative and analytical.
Victoria Visser, et al’s (2013) results show that when leaders display positive affect, happiness, follower performance on creative tasks is enhanced, and when leaders display negative affect, sadness, follower performance on analytical tasks is enhanced. Keeping within the discussion on emotional contagion, follower happiness and follower sadness results from leader’s display of happiness and sadness, retrospectively. One of Victoria Visser, et al’s (2013) implications is that leaders may be more effective when leading people in creative roles like designers when displaying positive affect, and more effective when leading people in analytical roles like financial controllers when displaying negative affect.
Overall, leaders need to understand their positive and negative display of emotions and moods can affect the emotions and moods of those they lead through the process of emotional and mood contagion. Further, that leader’s affective displays can affect performance contingent on the task being performed. As a result, leader’s affective displays can affect the creation and experiences of connections in the workplace. It is important for leaders to understand their emotions and to be aware of and manage those emotions. Therefore, the concept of emotional intelligence is discussed next.
Emotional intelligence will be discussed and how it relates to other intelligences, and its relevance to leaders and leadership. First, a brief background of the history about emotional intelligence is offered.
Cary Cherniss (2000) shares that when intelligence was first thought and written about, psychologists focused on the cognitive aspects. Researcher, David Wechsler, recognizes non-cognitive aspects such as thinking rationally and dealing effectively with one’s environment were also important to intelligence. Further, Howard Gardner asserts that intra and interpersonal intelligences were just as important as IQ (Cherniss 2000).
Expanding on multiple intelligences and those germane to my area of inquiry, Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) discuss social and emotional intelligence and defined social intelligence as having the ability to understand and manage people. Additionally, they share that more current views define social intelligence as a foundational construct to understand personality.
Gary Cherniss (2000) asserts that Peter Salovey and John Mayer founded the concept of emotional intelligence. Several other researchers on emotional intelligence reference Peter Salovey and John Mayer as well (Humphrey 2002; Dasborough and Ashkanasy 2002; Kruml and Yockey 2011; and Cote and Hideg 2011). Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) posit that emotional intelligence is a subset of social intelligence and defines it as, “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (189). Additionally, empathy is a core characteristic of emotionally intelligent behavior.
Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) stress that the focus of emotional intelligence is the recognition and use of an individual’s and others emotional states for the purpose of solving problems and regulating behavior. Further, it does not include the sense of self and appraisal of others (189). Based on Peter Salovey and John Mayer’s focus of emotional intelligence, by recognizing the kind of emotions a person uses can either help or hinder the ability to solve problems and regulate behavior both within themselves and of others. As a result, emotional intelligence can be an aid to create healthy and effective relations with others.
When it comes to the appraisal and expression of emotions in self and others, Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) assert that verbal and nonverbal language is a medium through which appraisal and expression of emotions is done. Also, that most communication occurs nonverbally. Being able to perceive well emotions in others helps to ensure interpersonal collaboration (Salovey & Mayer 1990). Several measurements were created to measure individual differences in nonverbal appraisal and expression of emotions in others. The Affect Sensitivity Test (AST) and the Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity (PONS) are two of those measurements (Salovey & Mayer 1990).
Stephane Cote and Ivona Hideg (2011) expand on Peter Salovey and John Mayer’s (1990) concept of emotional intelligence and propose a new dimension that focused on the ability to influence others via emotional displays. They assert that some individuals are more effective when relying on the social effects of others that they modify their emotions to influence others’ behaviours, attitudes, and emotions. Individual variation is an emotional ability relevant in organizational settings.
Why is this definition and understanding of emotional intelligence important? Marie Dasborough and Neal Ashkanasy (2002) share that several researchers have agreed that emotional intelligence is important because leaders not only display emotion but also evoke emotion in others. Daniel Goleman, et al (2002) asserts the leader’s primal and most important task in leadership is to be the emotional guide of others and the organization, and overall they set the emotional norm.
In their study to further the idea that emotional intelligence can be developed, Susan Kruml and Mark Yockey (2011) conclude that when developing leadership in organizations it is important to find effective and efficient curriculum programs to enhance emotional intelligence. Overall, leaders possessing emotional intelligence create and affect the mental health of an individual, team, and organization. Most importantly, emotional intelligence can have systemic affects beyond organizations and into society.
Since we’ve been discussing emotions, emotional and mood contagion, emotional intelligence, and leader affect, it’s only imperative that we next discuss neuroscience. Why? Because neuroscience, the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain, specifically the emotional brain or limbic system and amygdala, store emotions (Rock & Schwartz 2007; Goleman, et al 2002). In Karlene Kerfoot’s (2011) research, she shares the cerebral cortex becomes activated when we feel connected and safe. Further, that leaders’ actions create physiological reactions in others (Kerfoot 2011). There is specific neurological literature that helps shed light on emotion, leader affect, and how that can impact interpersonal connections.
David Waldman, et al (2011) conducts a research project to link quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG) with inspirational leadership. They share that qEEG is one of two popular techniques that investigates brain activity pertinent to effective leadership behavior. Data was collected using qEEG from a diverse sample of 50 upper echelon leaders located in the western United States.
Although David Waldman, et al’s (2011) findings were indicative of brain patterns associated with inspirational leadership, they stated their findings have implications for leadership development especially when brain profile deficiencies exist. For example, one of their participants was a leader who reported an issue with managing anger. The root cause of the anger was traced to a baseball injury suffered as a child. Through several sessions of neurofeedback, the leader was able to create new neuropathways that in turn corrected the leader’s anger problem.
In David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz’s (2007) writings about neuroscience of leadership, they share that during the last 20 years we’ve gained a more accurate understanding of human nature and how to make behavior changes because of the integration of psychology and neuroscience. As a result of imaging technologies, we are now able to view neural connections in the brain. Further, they assert that leaders who understand this more accurate understanding of human nature and behavior could lead and influence conscious change. Next, a discussion of brain anatomy in relation to emotions is shared.
David Rock (2009) discusses a study was conducted about what happens in the brain when people felt excluded or rejected. The study reveals that a certain area within the cortex associated with pain and suffering experiences higher levels of activity when people felt excluded or rejected. David Rock (2009) shares how that study illuminates the fact that the human brain is a social organ and shaped by social interactions. Could interpersonal connections between a leader and another be a result of the need to survive in the workplace? Additionally, could those that feel excluded from their leader be a result of those leaders that feel excluded from their leader?
Reflecting back to David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz’s (2007) discussion about neuroscience and leadership, they share that the orbital frontal cortex, located above the eyeballs, is where ‘error’ neural signals are generated (12). The orbital frontal cortex is closely connected to the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system (or emotional brain), and is associated with fear and can cause a person to become emotionally hijacked where emotions take over and there’s an absence of rational thinking. So, when there is a perceived difference between an expectation and actuality, the orbital frontal cortex and amygdala areas within the brain are activated, and ‘error’ neural signals can cause a person to become emotional (Rock & Schwartz 2007).
To reduce our chances of becoming emotionally hijacked, David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz (2007) discuss a quantum physics law called Quantum Zeno Effect (QZE) developed by physicist, George Sudarshan. From a neuroscience perspective, QZE is experienced when concentrating attention on a mental experience such as a thought or insight continually over time creates new neural pathways or patterns in the brain. So, how does this information about QZE relate to being a leader?
As a leader, we can enhance experiences of interpersonal connections in the workplace by asking questions of another that are thought-provoking, open-ended to stimulate solutions to issues or problems. As a leader, we can produce positive affect and emotional contagion in our interpersonal relations with others by being curious and focus on the possibilities instead of what’s wrong or not working. As a result, leaders can help create new neural pathways of others.
When leaders understand the brain and how it works, employees and organizations can benefit. David Rock (2009) discusses how collaboration depends on healthy relationships, which require trust and empathy. In the brain, the ability to feel trust and empathy is determined by whether or not someone is perceived to be part of the same social group.
David Rock (2009) continues his discussion by saying that when we meet someone new for the first time our brain immediately determines whether that person is friend or foe. If the person is a friend or similar to us, different neural pathways are triggered than those trigged by someone perceived as a foe. Therefore, it is only over time and through repeated social interactions that trust and empathy can be developed.
Further, David Rock (2009) shares that a hormone called oxytocin is a chemical secreted in the brain once people create healthy social interactions. Also, oxytocin disarms the foe neural pathway and is linked with affection and sexual arousal. Leaders who demand collaboration from the beginning of teams with diverse people will only defeat the ability for people to collaborate. Moreover, the sooner leaders can express trust and empathy in interpersonal connections, the more there will be of healthy and positive experiences in dyadic relationships between a leader and another.
Returning to the assertion by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz (2007) about how leaders can lead and influence conscious change as a result of their increased understanding from neuroscience research is controversial. Certainly some of the literature from neuroscience research can create awareness in leaders and help them become more effective leaders. However, some of the literature can cause leaders to make inferences and assumptions that could be inaccurate. Next, some of the controversial discussion is shared about mirror neurons.
Luigi Cattaneo and Giacomo Rizzolatti (2009) discuss how mirror neurons first discovered in macaque monkeys within the F5 ventral premotor cortex area of the brain also exists in the cortical network of humans. Gregory Hickok (2008) explains that mirror neurons are neurons that ignite or respond when a monkey or human makes active movements or motor acts and when observations of movement or motor acts were made. These movements or motor acts are things like grasping or holding. Further, mirror neurons help provide understanding about action. More importantly, Luigi Cattaneo and Giacomo Rizzolatti (2009) share that through neuroimaging there exists two neural regions in the brain that store mirror neurons, one of those is the limbic system, which assisted in the recognition of affective behavior.
Gregory Hickok (2008) discusses how controversy arose when researchers started generalizing and making assumptions about the function of mirror neurons. One of those generalizations Gregory Hickok (2008) shares is that mirror neurons might play a critical role in higher order cognitive processes such as imitation and empathy. Additionally, that people with autism spectrum disorders experience impairment of cognitive processes like imitation and empathy. Luigi Cattaneo and Giacomo Rizzolatti (2009) support this generalization in their literature on mirror neurons.
As a result, Gregory Hickok (2008) argues the mirror neuron literature has been generalized to humans without systematic validation and vaguely based on assumptions. Gregory Hickok (2008) states however there is nothing wrong with using animals to generate hypotheses in humans, but we need to first validate assumptions before making inferences regarding human behavior.
Now let’s make a connection between the mirror neuron literature and controversy back to the area of inquiry about leaders experiences of interpersonal connections. Reflecting on the idea of mirror neurons and their role of imitation and empathy, mirror neurons could be a neurological ingredient embedded in emotional contagion. Furthermore, mirror neurons in relation to empathy are probably what help create connections in dyadic relationships.
Moreover, as a leader and having awareness of mirror neurons, it is hopeful that a leader wouldn’t imitate other’s behaviours for the sole purpose to establish connections with another. A leader’s action needs to be genuine. Additionally, a leader should not make the inference that those who don’t express empathy are autistic individuals. With this new neuroscience literature, a leader must use discernment and question their inferences so to not create unhealthy dyadic relationships.
There are several leadership theories that relate to my area of inquiry. Specifically, these theories talk about interpersonal connection, leader traits like charisma, having trust, and dyadic relations. The following sections will examine these theories, which are leadership as presence, transformational, charismatic, and relational.
Leadership as Presence
Michael Rock and Bob Smith (2011) summarize it well in their article about leadership as presence and interpersonal connections. They assert when we meet a leader who presents him/herself as they truly are as opposed to a leader who presents him/herself coming from position, we experience an emotional and spiritual connection with that leader. Further, although we may not be able to articulate the connection, we intuitively know a connection exists.
Leadership as presence elicits the best in every employee and provides such an environment. Also, presence does not come across as fake and exudes from having personal integrity. Further, leaders with presence make time to listen to their employees, attentively embrace relationships, and lead from their personal center; leaders without presence will be ineffective (Rock & Smith 2011).
Although Michael Rock and Bob Smith (2011) discuss how leaders with presence are more effective and experience connections with employees, what is missing is the leader’s experience of connections. How would these leaders describe the connections? What are some of the traits or properties of leadership within those connections?
Over the last 30 years, transformational leadership has been the most widely researched of all the leadership theories (Zhu, et al 2013). In research by Timothy Judge and Ronald Piccolo (2004) and Ying-Ni Cheng, et al (2012), they share that transformational leadership as proposed by Bass in 1985 is leaders who portray charismatic behavior, communicate visions that are inspiring and appealing, challenges assumptions and solicits ideas of followers, and attends and listens to follower’s needs. Ronald Humphrey (2002) states transformational leaders have the ability to change organizations by creating visions and plans for the future, and this type of leadership usually occurs under emergency situations because people are unsure and confused. Further, that it is during these emergency situations transformation leaders need to be strong in managing their emotions.
A study by Weichun Zhu, et al (2013) was conducted to find out the role of trust on the relationships between transformational leadership and follower work outcomes such as job performance, affective organizational commitment, and organizational citizenship behavior. There are two types of trust: affective and cognitive. Weichun Zhu, et al (2013) shares that researchers defined affective trust as trust based on emotional ties between two people and results from mutual display of care and concern for both people, and cognitive trust as trust evaluated by the follower on important leader characteristics such as integrity, competence, reliability, and dependability.
The results of Weichun Zhu, et al’s (2013) study reveals that transformational leadership produced higher levels of both types of trust. The development of affective trust allows transformational leadership to produce positive work outcomes. However, transformational leadership has a negative affect on job performance when eliciting higher levels of cognitive trust.
Do transformational leaders, because of their ability to create compelling and inspiring visions and listen and attend to followers’ needs, make up the type of leaders people connect to? Are interpersonal connections built on affective trust?
In Stefanie Johnson’s (2008) study on the importance of leader and follower affect in charismatic leadership, she shares how charismatic leadership theory elucidates the emotional connection between leaders and followers that leads to increased performance by followers. Further, the possession of charisma is the personal power these types of leaders express.
Stefanie Johnson’s (2008) findings reveal that the ability of a charismatic leader to be effective is dependent on the kinds of situations and the types of followers they lead. For example, charismatic leaders are more effective in work settings where positive affect is required such as human resources or healthcare, and create the opportunity for emotional contagion to occur. Also, followers vulnerable to emotional contagion are also more vulnerable to the effects of charismatic leaders (Johnson 2008).
Based on the research presented by Stefanie Johnson (2008), could it be that interpersonal connections comprise a leader who is charismatic? From a leader’s perspective, how does a charismatic leader create an emotional attachment with followers? What are some of the properties within an emotional attachment?
Two studies by Amir Erez, et al (2008) reveal that charismatic leaders with positive affect enhanced followers’ positive affect and reduced levels of negative affect. Further, three common characteristics of charismatic leaders were found to influence followers’ emotions, those characteristics were: positive affect, positive expression, and aroused behavior. Overall, charismatic leaders make people feel happy.
Reviewing this research on charismatic leadership evoked a couple of questions. Is charisma a characteristic we’re born with or can it be developed? Is charisma a trait that a leader or those they lead that creates interpersonal connections? If so, how much of an impact does charisma have on interpersonal connections? Perhaps looking at literature that focuses more on relational aspects of leadership provide more understanding about interpersonal connections.
The discussion in leadership theories about dyadic or interpersonal relationships started its discussion in the late 1970’s with the vertical dyad linkage theory (VDL). The vertical dyad linkage theory states that leaders were different from their subordinates by how they were supervised. Close relationships between leaders and subordinates are defined as an in-group and those relationships that didn’t contain closeness are defined as the out-group (Brower, et al 2000).
Research about dyadic relationships developed and as a result, the references to in-group and out-group were eliminated, and the leader-member exchange (LMX) theory replaced VDL (Brower, et al 2000). Mary Uhl-Bien (2006) shares the LMX theory has been the predominant focus to study relationships in leadership. The LMX theory is based on and defined by the value of exchange between leaders and members (Brower, et al 2000)
Expanding on LMX, it is important to note that high LMX relationships are characterized by mutual trust, loyalty, and actions extending outside the employment contract. On the contrary, low LMX relationships operate within the bounds of the employment contract, meaning the employee performs their job but doesn’t contribute anything else (Brower, et al 2000). Could one assume that connections to leaders occur more often in high LMX relationships?
Combining theories of LMX and interpersonal trust, Holly Brower, et al (2000) propose a model of relational leadership. By proposing a relational leadership model, they argue that both parties within the dyadic relationship (leader and subordinate) have the ability to evaluate their perceptions of each other on ability, benevolence, and integrity. Their model advances original LMX theory as both the leader and the subordinate, as opposed to just the leader, measures the value of exchange in the dyadic relationship as well as the re-evaluation of the level of trust, especially when there’s been betrayal (Brower, et al 2000).
Using Holly Brower, et al’s (2000) relational leadership model would enrich the understanding and knowledge about leaders’ experiences of interpersonal connections. Meaning, it makes since to gather data from both parties in dyadic relationships when conducting research on ‘interpersonal’ connections. Holly Brower, et al (2000) explicitly shares that future research is to explore the relationship between leaders and subordinates.
In continuing with the notion of relational leadership, Mary Uhl-Bien (2006) shares the term relational leadership is fairly new in leadership discourse and as a result, it’s meaning is unclear. In 1958, scholar Hollander posits this type of leadership is a social exchange relationship and reciprocal influence between leaders and followers (Uhl-Bien 2006). In the late 1990’s, relational leadership asserted a leader liked people and flourished on relationships.
There are two extant relational leadership perspectives. One, called an entity perspective, focuses on individuals within the relationship, specifically between leaders and followers, and elements such as their perceptions and behaviours. The other perspective, relational, asserts that leaders and organizations are created as a result of social processes (Uhl-Bien 2006).
Sonia Ospina and Erica Foldy (2010) state examining the relational dimension of leadership has grown considerably over time. Expanding on Mary Uhl-Bien’s (2006) relational leadership perspectives, Sonia Ospina and Erica Foldy (2010) share the entity perspective is viewed as a trend, increasingly necessary and apparent, and focuses on the ‘space between’ leaders and followers. Additionally, the relational perspective is viewed more as a constructionist approach, meaning that the process of leadership is broader and constructed beyond the relationship between individuals and out into organizations and communities.
Shawn Ferch and Matthew Mitchell (2001) believe that effective leadership is constructed on relationships – the quality of leadership is indicative of the quality of the relationship. Additionally, there is a shift in contemporary leadership theories to focus more on what happens between participants and less on leadership attributes. Shawn Ferch and Matthew Mitchell (2001) assert leaders use a technique called intentional forgiveness to restore the quality of the relationship back to a robust relational structure.
This literature review culled the current information about leaders and how their emotions, emotional and mood contagion, and emotional intelligence can affect interpersonal connections. From a neuroscience perspective there is a wealth of information about emotions and mirror neurons and their relationship to interpersonal connections. Certain leadership theories such as leadership as presence, transformational, charismatic, and relational helped provide more understanding as to how leadership affects the experiences of interpersonal connections.
However, what is still not well understood is the space between a leader and another. I disagree with Mary Uhl-Bien’s (2006) argument to move beyond the focus on dyadic relationship because there is still more to learn about interpersonal connections. Moreover, leadership discourse has yet to speak from the voice of the leader and their experiences of interpersonal connections. It is precisely Lynne McTaggart’s definition of connection, the space between things, specifically understanding the experiences about that invisible space between a leader and another that form the purpose of future research in this area. Future studies in leadership should seek to provide more knowledge and understanding about leader’s experiences of interpersonal connections and the properties of those connections.
Sonia Ospina and Erica Foldy (2010) provide another perspective as to the purpose of future study in this area. They state, “…the potential for connectedness is always present in human beings. When fostered, it can promote reciprocal relations and commitments in groups and organizations that, in turn, generate the collaboration required to achieve collective goals” (292).
As future studies enhance the knowledge around interpersonal connected qualities of leadership, leaders who have the responsibility of managing and leading others will become more aware of how they affect and impact dyadic relationships. When a leader is more aware, this is an opportunity to help create transformation in both the leader and the person they are relating to.
This research is important because there are systemic implications. When leaders become conscious of the space they create and influence within dyadic relationships, a ripple effect results. Those spaces that result in positive affect and experience imbue other dyadic relationships. Using the metaphor of a drop of water in a pond, positive spaces within all relationships would be exponential out into teams, organizations, and ultimately society.
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About the Author
Sherill Lambruschini is a PhD student at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She works with leader4ship development at Boeing in Seattle.