Article on: The Blind Spot of Leadership research

Some thoughts about the here-so called "blind spot of leadership research": the need for further research on leadership and change in relation to structures, routines and systems driving the leadership and agile capabilities of an organization and its individuals.

This abstracts briefly explores the influence of leadership in order to build an organization's agility, its capacity for continuous change. Scholars see a close connection between leadership and change, especially when discussing the differences between leadership and management (Zaleznik 1977, Kotter 1990 and 1996, Bass 1990, Daft 2002, Yukl 2002, Neuberger 2002, Möslein 2004, Siebert 2006). In short, leadership is meant to produce change - even to a dramatic degree -, management is meant to produce predictability, order, and stability - usually by implementing routines and structures. Researchers claim that there are two opposite perspectives on change:

The more traditional view considers that change is the exception and stability the rule. When a company is forced to change, leaders and change agents have to "unfreeze" the current status quo, they have to manage the "move" towards the status to be achieved and finally have to "refreeze" the new equilibrium (Lewin 1958, Kotter 1990, Kotter 1998, Kieser / Hegele / Klimmer 1998). To cope with resistance to change is one of the major issues in this perspective (Weick 1996, von Rosenstiel 1997 and 1998, Kieser / Hegele / Klimmer 1998, Piderit 2000, von Rosenstiel / Comelli 2003).

The opposite view claims that stability is the exception and change the rule (Reiß 1997, Schreyögg / Noss 1995 and 2000, Feldman 2000, Weick / Sutcliffe 2003, Schreyögg 2004, Siebert 2004). Organizations have to build a capacity for change, they have to be enabled to learn continuously (Argyris 1976, Argyris / Schön ,1978, Probst / Büchel 1994, Argyris 1995), they have to be adaptive and absorptive (Cohen / Levinthal 1990 and 1994, March 1991, Zahra / George 2000, Siebert 2006), they have to implement a change and innovation fostering culture (Kieser / Hegele / Klimmer 1998, Schreyögg 2004, Siebert 2006), they have to develop adequate HRM practices (Lopez-Cabrales / Valle-Cabrera 2004) or they have to introduce organizational routines as sources of change (Feldman 2000, Feldman / Rafaeli 2002, Feldman / Pentland 2003, Siebert 2006) - more modern organizational concepts even claim for a so called ambidextrous organization - an organization that is able to manage both, revolutionary and evolutionary changes (O'Reilly / Tushman 1996 and 2004). The mentioned approaches consider from different backgrounds, that structures have to be designed in appropriate ways in order to implement, maintain and foster a capability for continuous change (Siebert 2004 and 2006).

The question remains, how leadership can contribute to the inherent goal to build this form of an agile organization.

Following this argumentation line, this abstracts claims that there is a "blind spot" of leadership research (see in the graphic at the top, the cluster at the upper, right-hand-side).

Leadership theories can be classified in five groups (Möslein 2004):
There are (1) trait theories (House 1977, Bass 1990, House et al. 1991), (2) motivation and volition theories (Tannenbaum / Schmidt 1958, Blake / Mouton 1964, Katz / Kahn 1952), (3) contingency approaches (Fiedler 1967 and 1978, Kerr / Jermier 1978, Fiedler / Mai-Dalton 1995, Neuberger 2002), (4) interaction theories (Graen et al. 1986, Yukl 1971 and 2002, House et al. 1999) and (5) transformational theories (Bass 1998, Tichy / Devanna 1997, Avolio / Bass / Jung 1999, Jung / Chow / Wu 2003, Price 2003, Rafferty / Griffin 2004).

Those approaches mainly cope with the personal aspects of leaders and leadership. If they consider change, they usually follow the first paradigm - change is an exception and not the rule.


This abstract therefore proposes that there should be an even stronger focus on research on structural leadership, complementing the current view. As structures usually offer stability, the focus of this research could be especially on those routines and structures, which support leaders and in the same time support creativity, agility of the organization and foster change. If an organization wants to build a capacity for change, it can not solely rely on only one or few individuals. Equally to the appropriate design of structures for the development of the capacities for learning or innovation, the organization has to develop a "leadership capacity". Leaders have to be selected and developed in appropriate ways. Leaders have to think in holistic, systematic and strategic dimensions; besides the interaction with their subordinates, especially top leaders have to become designers of the organization in order to implement and increase also the leadership capacity as a whole. Accordingly, everyone can be or become a Leader - in the sense of moving the own area of action or even the whole organization into a new direction. Organizations should utilize and manage this collective power. On the other hand, organizations also need coordination and alignment in order not to follow too many different goals and therefore lose the inevitable synergies, efficiencies and stability.

Summary: Structural leadership has to enable a balance of stability, radical and continuous changes (Siebert 2006). In other words:

Leadership Excellence = Leadership with focus on Individuals AND Organizational Routines driving Predictability (stability) AND Adaptability (change) (Siebert 2020).

Please also refer to the Bibliography.

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