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Home arrow Business & Finance arrow Distance Leadership in International Corporations: Why Organizations Struggle when Distances Grow

Conclusion and Outlook

Chapter overview

The last chapter displays a comprehensive review of the entire work. At first, a summary of the study and potential limitations are provided. In the following, reasons are given why this work reflects a contribution to science, on the one hand, and for practice, on the other. Finally, an outlook for distance leadership research is provided.


The motivation for this research arose from a practical viewpoint. As members of large international corporations, many individuals today face a new level of collaboration across physical boundaries. Advanced information technologies revolutionized the way organizations interact internally. Large corporations today invest heavily in leadership trainings, which often neglect the synchronization of behaviors and tools. Particularly, when collaboration involves geographical distance many leaders face challenges leading individuals as traditional modes of control diminish. As a pioneer in the field, Bogardus (1927) brought early attention to the topic of distance when considering contexts for leadership. As numbers of distributed team members are rising almost a century later, still little attention has been given to the topic (Cole et al., 2009), although researchers affirm that virtual leadership involves a different skill set than traditional leadership does (Criswell & Martin, 2007).

The present research contributes to the fields of both leadership and distance. First, this study provides a sound conceptualization of modern leadership theories. The first part of the literature review takes on one of the most widely used and accepted leadership theories of the last two decades - the Full-Range Leadership Model (Bass & Avolio, 1995) and describes it with its subfacets, followed by an outline of post-heroic leadership theories developed in the recent years. In particular, selfleadership and adjacent concepts of superleadership, empowering, and shared leadership are outlined. The second part of the literature review delineates conceptualizations of e-leadership, virtual leadership, and distance leadership and discusses recent findings comprehensively. This work views distance leadership as a construct defining the physical separation, quality of relationship, and extent of interaction frequency between leader and follower, following earlier considerations by Antonakis and Atwater (2002) as well as Napier and Ferris (1993). The literature

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2017

N. Poser, Distance Leadership in International Corporations,

Advances in Information Systems and Business Engineering,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-658-15223-9_8

review closes with a derivation of hypotheses. Hypotheses are divided into two sequences; the first proposing direct effects of leadership behavior on follower performance; the second determining influences of distance dimensions on the leader- follower relationship.

Acting as an exploratory attempt to discover influences of distance on the leader- follower relationship, the study follows a cross-sectional design. The purpose is to answer the research question: How do physical distance, relationship quality, and interaction frequency impact the influence of leadership behavior on follower selfleadership and performance in international corporations? Followers within large international corporations were therefore surveyed with the help of self- administered online surveys. Subordinates were asked to respond to questions on their leaders’ leadership behavior, the relationship with their leader, and their own self-leadership and performance behavior. Respondents were also asked to indicate the physical distance between permanent office locations and the degree of interaction between followers and leaders.

In total, data from 372 followers were part of the analysis. Data analysis is described for each set of variables separately. A confirmatory factor analysis was pursued for testing the validity of the recently developed Self-Leadership Skills Inventory by Furtner and Rauthmann (in prep.). The SLSI serves as a further development of the RSLQ by Houghton and Neck (2002). Model fit indices reflect good data appropriateness. Factor loadings range between .73 and .95 and do not demonstrate any double loadings. The measure furthermore provides excellent fit of internal consistency.

Transformational leadership is the leadership behavior perceived as most distinctive in large international organizations. In addition, most followers view the relationship with their leaders as well established. Social self-leadership skills are rated highest among all three self-leadership strategies. Physical distance distribution between leaders and followers varied. The majority of respondents were located close to their leaders, yet for those who reported to be working physically apart, situations ranged from working in separate buildings to working on separate continents. Followers were also asked to specify the level of interaction with their leaders. Face-to-face contact was regularly used in close leader-follower relations, whereas the degree of face-to-face interaction declined, the further they were separated. E-mail contact was the second most-used interaction method. Almost every second follower uses chat software, yet videoconferencing is still applied sparingly.

For testing hypotheses, various statistical methods were applied. Multiple linear modeling was used to detect direct effects of leadership behavior on follower out?comes. Subsequently, moderation and mediation analyses were used to investigate interferences of distance dimensions on the leader-follower relationship. Testing for the effects of leadership behavior on follower work-related outcomes, only transactional leadership had a direct effect on follower self-leadership. Incorporating control variables into the model, this was true especially for individuals working in manufacturing/logistics/supply chain. No direct effects were found for influences of leadership behavior on follower performance. Effects on performance were significant, however, for self-leadership. Natural reward strategies as well as social self-leadership strategies both predicted follower performance positively. Testing the first moderation, it was hypothesized that physical distance would influence the effect of leadership behavior on follower self-leadership. Calculations revealed that for very close (0 km) and very distant (>1000 km) leader-follower pairs, transformational leadership predicted follower self-leadership. For the group of pairs working 1-1,000 km from each other, transformational leadership did not predict follower self-leadership. Self-leadership further provided indications for passive leadership to be negatively moderated by physical distance. This was true for the very distant sample which indicates that negative effects of passive leadership even increase with physical distance. Testing influences of physical distance on the leadership behavior/performance relationship, physical distance had no significant effects. For perceptions of relationship quality, physical distance revealed direct negative effects. This indicates that if physical distance between leader and follower increases, the quality of relationship most likely decreases. To determine which role relationship quality plays in the leadership/performance relationship, mediation was tested. Calculations pointed out that the quality of relationship fully mediated the influence of transformational leadership on follower performance. Regarding transactional leadership effects, analyses still revealed indirect effects. Relationship quality further mediated (in reverse direction) the effect of passive leadership on follower performance. The outcome illustrates that the relationship formed by leader and follower has the potential to decrease negative effects of passive leadership. Finally, it was assessed whether the frequency of interaction between leader and follower has an effect. Findings include moderating influences of interaction frequency on the influence of transformational leadership on follower performance. The subsequent calculations showed that for the sample with high leader-follower interaction frequency, transformational leadership predicted follower performance.

The aim of this work was to expand leadership research by investigating the role of physical distance, relationship quality, and self-leadership on work-related outcomes in the leader-follower relationship. For the first time, the relation between leadership behavior and follower outcomes is tested using all dimensions of the

Full Range Leadership Model within the context of large international corporations. Study findings include moderating influences of physical distance on follower selfleadership. Yet, no influence was detected for the effect on follower performance. Thus, the impact of physical distance on the leader-follower relationship appears limited. A more substantial impact is observed by quality of relationship and interaction frequency. While leader-follower interaction frequency is a potential enhancer for the transmission of transformational leadership, the foundation for a working relationship between leader and follower is rooted in the quality of the leader-follower relationship.

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