July 28th, 2012 Jay Lorsch
Jay W. Lorsch is the Louis Kirstein Professor of Human Relations at the Harvard Business School. He is the author of over a dozen books, the most recent of which are "Back to the Drawing Board: Designing Boards for a Complex World" (with Colin B. Carter, 2003), "Aligning the Stars: How to Succeed When Professionals Drive Results" (with Thomas J. Tierney, 2002), and "Pawns or Potentates: The Reality of America's Corporate Boards" (1989). "Organization and Environment" (with Paul R. Lawrence) won the Academy of Management's Best Management Book of the Year Award and the James A. Hamilton Book Award of the College of Hospital Administrators in 1969.
A Contingency Theory of Leadership by Jay Lorsch
Jay Lorsch revisits the prospects for a contingency theory of leadership, reconsidering and extending the work of earlier scholars such as Fiedler, Tannenbaum and Schmidt, and Vroom and Yetton, who suggested that the most effective style of leadership will vary depending on the characteristics of a situation. They did not completely agree on the situational factors to be considered and their work tended to focus on smaller groups rather than large organizations.
Finally, they had differing expectations about a leader's ability to fit a recommended style to a situation, with Fred Fielder arguing that leadership styles were not malleable, so the theory could best be applied to select a leader whose style already displayed the desired approach. Admitting these limitations and points of divergence in prior scholarship, Lorsch nevertheless regards the contingency approach as the right direction for leadership studies. By contrast, he views more recent research focused on effective leadership behavior, whether a general approach such as Theory Y, or in specific tasks such as organizational changes weaker for its lack of attention to situational factors, seemingly implying that whatever style of leadership prescribed is suitable for any context, despite evident differences across the range of situations, from the battleground to the boardroom, where leadership is exercised.
To begin, Jay Lorsch establishes a working definition of leadership, rejecting a popular dichotomy that distinguishes leaders from managers (identifying the former with directing change and the latter with maintaining the status quo). Instead, he adopts the general definition that a leader is an individual who influences others to follow him or her. In this he also makes a distinction between power and influence, associating power with position and thus regarding it as a situational variable that can have impact on a leader's influence, while influence, which can also be developed through followers' perceptions of competence or charisma, is the more appropriate general prerequisite for a leader.
Jay Lorsch asserts that a contingency approach to leadership theory is first of all valuable for its ability to deal with the evident diversity in situations requiring the exercise of leadership. He builds upon this argument with the assertion that any valid explanation of behavior in organizations must recognize the systemic nature of an organizational context. As such, a theory projecting the effectiveness of leadership behavior based on its interaction with specified organizational system characteristics is needed. To build a deep understanding of the leader's job that would point to variables of interest, Lorsch reviewed seminal studies of leadership (e.g.,Barnard, Burns, Gardner, Selznick). He focused his exploration on the questions of why individuals follow leaders and what activities leaders engage in to gain followers.
In addressing the first question, Lorsch revisits his distinction between power and influence, where the latter is a property of the individual leader that is developed through followers' perceptions. Thus, he emphasizes the importance of shared values between a leader and followers for enhancing perceived charisma, and the associated influence, of a leader. With respect to activities of leadership, he regards making decisions, whether implicit or explicit, about organizational goals, as the starting point. In this, the leader faces the challenge of balancing a need to select goals suiting the values of followers against a need to meet organizational objectives for economic efficiency and performance. The leader's judicious exercise of listening and communication skills will thus be critical for effectiveness.
From this discussion, Lorsch develops propositions based on identified contingency factors, the first being followers' expectations. He suggests that the greater the congruence of these expectations to the leader's goals and source(s) of power and influence, the more likely that followers will accept the leader's direction. Another proposition is based on organizational complexity in terms of size, hierarchical levels and geographic scope. He suggests that such complexity makes the leader's task more difficult due to the greater separation it entails between leader and followers. Assessments of a top leader's competence or charisma in such environments will likely be filtered by followers through their impressions of subordinate leaders, who may or may not reflect the overall leader's qualities. As such, the leader's efforts to draw on all possible sources of power and influence and to align goals with followers expectations will be hindered. Finally, Lorsch proposes a contingency factor of organizational task, largely following the work of earlier contingency theorists in leadership. Greater certainty (in the sense of a clearly defined, predictable task) permits greater directiveness on the leader's part, allowing reliance on power derived from position. Alternatively, motivating followers in uncertain tasks that require problem-solving and creativity requires the leader to draw more on competence or charisma as sources of influence. Lorsch proposes that as a task's characteristics range from highly certain to highly uncertain, more certainty will be suited to a more directive style of leadership and more uncertainty will fit with a more participative approach.
In summary, Lorsch's contingency approach regards the leader's relationship with followers as central: Followers' values and expectations must align with the goals set by the leader, communication between the parties must be strong, and the leader must draw effectively on power as a function of position (a directive approach) and on influence through perceived competence and charisma (a participative approach). The appropriate mix will depend on contingent factors as follows:
1) the leader's chosen goals and available sources of power and influence;
2) the followers' expectations;
3) the complexity of the organization; and
4) the certainty or uncertainty of the task.
While applying a contingency approach to leadership, Lorsch nevertheless asserts that leadership style is largely stabilized early in life, agreeing with Fiedler that such theory is of benefit in the selection of leaders, not in their selection of behavior.
Books of Jay Lorsch
Lorsch, Jay W., Leslie Berlowitz, and Andy Zelleke, eds. Restoring Trust in American Business. The Academy of Arts and Sciences. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Colin Carter. Back to the Drawing Board: Designing Corporate Boards for a Complex World. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Thomas J. Tierney. Aligning the Stars: How to Succeed When Professionals Drive Results. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Lorsch, J. W., and Elizabeth MacIver. Pawns or Potentates: The Reality of America's Corporate Boards. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 1989.
Lorsch, J. W., ed. The Handbook of Organizational Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1987.
Donaldson, Gordon, and J. W. Lorsch. Decision Making at the Top: The Shaping of Strategic Direction. New York: Basic Books Publishing Company, 1983.
Lorsch, J. W., James P. Baughman, James Reece, and Henry Mintzberg. Understanding Management. New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1978.
Lawrence, Paul R., Louis B. Barnes, and Jay W. Lorsch, eds. Organizational Behavior and Administration: Cases and Readings. 3rd ed. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin Inc., 1976.
Lorsch, J. W., and John Morse. Organizations and Their Members: A Contingency Approach. New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1974.
Lorsch, J. W., and Stephen A. Allen III. Managing Diversity and Interdependence. Boston, Mass.: HBS Division of Research, 1973.
Lorsch, J. W., and Louis B. Barnes, eds. Managers and Their Careers: Cases and Readings. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin Inc., 1972.
Lorsch, J. W., and Paul R. Lawrence, eds. Managing Group and Intergroup Relations. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin Inc., 1972.
Dalton, Gene W., Paul R. Lawrence, and J. W. Lorsch, eds. Organizational Structure and Design. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin Inc., 1970.
Lorsch, J. W., and Paul R. Lawrence, eds. Studies in Organization Design. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin Inc., 1970.
Lorsch, J. W., and Paul R. Lawrence. Organizational Development: Diagnosis and Action. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1969.
Lawrence, Paul R., and J. W. Lorsch. Organization and Environment. Boston, Mass.: HBS Division of Research, 1967. (Reissued as a Harvard Business School Classic, Harvard Business School Press, 1986.)
Lorsch, J. W. Product Innovation and Organization. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1965.
Published Papers of Jay Lorsch
Lorsch, Jay W. "HBS Focus: The Reality of Corporate Boards." Directors & Boards 33, no. 1 (Fourth Quarter 2008).
Lorsch, Jay W., and Robert C. Clark. "Leading from the Boardroom." Harvard Business Review 86, no. 4 (April 2008): 104-111. (R0804G.)
Lorsch, Jay W., and William J. Holstein. "A Conversation with Jay Lorsch: Is the Minority Yelling Too Loud?" Q&A. Directorship (February/March 2007).
Lorsch, Jay W. "Making the Best of M&A." Directors & Boards 3, no. 3 (fourth quarter 2006): 6.
Lorsch, Jay W., and John L. Howard. "The Board of Directors and the Company Lawyers." Directors Monthly 30, no. 5 (May 2006): 1-6.
Lorsch, Jay W. "A Progress Report on U.S. Corporate Governance." Corporate Governance in Canada and the United States: A Comparative View. One Issue, Two Voices, no. 5 (April 2006): 2-8.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Andy Zelleke. "Should the CEO be the Chairman?" Art. 46214. MIT Sloan Management Review 46, no. 2 (winter 2005): 71-74.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Andargachew Zelleke. "The Chairman's Job Description." Directors & Boards (Fourth Quarter 2005): 28-32.
Lorsch, Jay W. "Commentaire critique de "Leadership Passages"." Manageris: Les syntheses des meilleurs ouvrages de Management, no. 139 (Juillet-Aout 2005): 18.
Porter, Michael E., Jay W. Lorsch, and Nitin Nohria. "Seven Surprises for New CEOs." R0410C. Harvard Business Review 82, no. 10 (October 2004): 62-72.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Colin B. Carter. "Director, Heal Thyself." Manager's Journal. The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2004, B2.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Colin B. Carter. "A Visit to Board 'Central Casting'." Directors & Boards 28, no. 1 (fall 2003): 25-30.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Thomas J. Tierney. "Building A Bench." The American Lawyer (July 2003).
Lorsch, Jay W., and Thomas J. Tierney. "Creating Competitive Advantage in the Knowledge Economy." Leader to Leader. Leader to Leader, no. 26 (fall 2002): 41-47.
Lorsch, Jay W. "Add CEO Salaries to The Corporate Reform List." The Boston Globe, July 14, 2002.
Lorsch, Jay W., and Martin Lipton. "A Modest Proposal for Dealing with the Enron Crisis." Corporate Governance Advisor 10, no. 3 (May/June 2002): 1-4.
Lorsch, Jay W., Andargachew Zelleke, and Katharina Pick. "Unbalanced Boards." F0102E. Harvard Business Review 79, no. 2 (February 2001).
Lorsch, Jay W., Andargachew Zelleke, and Katharina Pick. "Unbalanced Boards." Harvard Business Review 79, no. 2 (February 2001).
Lorsch, Jay W., Duke K. Bristow, Paul D. Lapides, Chuck King, and T.K. Kerstetter. "Building a Better Board." Roundtable Discussion. Special Supplement. Corporate Board Member (2001): 12-19.
Lorsch, J. W. "CEO Pay: Facts and Fallacies." The Corporate Board (May-June 1999).
Lorsch, J. W. "Should Directors Grade Themselves?" Across the Board 34, no. 5 (May 1997).
Lorsch, J. W. "The Board's Role in Monitoring Performance." Governing Entrepreneurial Companies (summer 1996).
Lorsch, J. W. "The Board As a Change Agent." The Corporate Board (July-August 1996).
Lorsch, J. W. "Empowering the Board." Harvard Business Review 73, no. 1 (January-February 1995).
Lorsch, J. W. "Performance Assessment in the Boardroom." Directors and Boards 18, no. 3 (spring 1994).
Lorsch, J. W. "Boardroom Brawn." Forecast 2, no. 3 (May-June 1994).
Lipton, Martin, and J. W. Lorsch. "A Modest Proposal for Improved Corporate Governance." The Business Lawyer 48, no. 1 (November 1992).
Lorsch, J. W. "War and Peace in the Boardroom." Director's Monthly 15, no. 7 (July 1991).
Wharton, C. R., J. W. Lorsch, and L. Hanson. "Advice and Dissent: Rating the Corporate Governance Compact." Harvard Business Review 69, no. 6 (November-December 1991).
Lorsch, J. W., and E. MacIver. "Restructure Boardrooms." Supplement. Institutional Investor (December 1990).
Loveman, Gary W., John J. Gabarro, and Jay W. Lorsch. "The Managerial Implications of Changing Work Force Demographics: A Scoping Study." Human Resource Management Journal 4, no. 4 (1989).