Substitutes for Leadership (Kerr and Jermier)

Leadership Continuum
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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

Substitutes for Leadership (Kerr and Jermier)

There are a wide range of leadership theories that explain particular traits, behaviors and activities needed for leaders to be effective. Most of these theories recognize that the type of leadership that is effective in a situation differs across situations. But there are also some leadership styles that are assumed to be effective regardless of the situation.

However, it has been found that there are particular SITUATIONAL VARIABLES - organizational variables, characteristics of the subordinates and task-related variables - that can substitute for, neutralize or improve the effects of certain leadership traits/behaviors. This theory was developed by Kerr and Jermier (1978) and is called ’substitutes for leadership’. Those situational variables directly affect the perceptions and attitudes of employees and as such their performance.
These 'substitutes' can decrease the reliance of followers on their leaders and in the most extreme cases they can make leadership unnecessary for them. For example:
- If the task of subordinates has a high level of routine, interventions of leaders could be unwanted or unneeded because they rather disturb the routine.
- If subordinates are characterized by a high level of independency and have the ability to achieve goals without supervision, this enables them to perform their tasks efficiently without leadership.
Source: Kerr, S. and Jermier, J.M. (1978) “Substitutes for Leadership: Their Meaning and Measurement” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance


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