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An application of configurational theory to compare CEO leadership styles in entrepreneurial organizations

James Paul Grinnell, University of Massachusetts Amherst


During the past two decades, interest in entrepreneurial firms has increased dramatically. One of the most widely studied aspects of entrepreneurship is CEO leadership style. Traditionally, leadership research has relied on micro variables such as leader/member relations, subordinate readiness, or task complexity to explain leadership style. While such research is plentiful, several reviews have shown that there exists a morass of contradictory and inconclusive findings (Klenke, 1993). In response some leadership scholars have called for more emphasis on a macro orientation (e.g., Waldman & Yammarino, 1999), though there has been limited empirical investigation to date. A key problem with integrating macro variables to examine leadership is that debates of causality are widespread in the organization theory literature. To mitigate this problem, the proposed research adopts the configuration approach (Miller & Friesen, 1983). The underlying assumption of the configuration approach is that organizations can be classified into a finite collection of sub-groupings based on their design and contextual characteristics. This study compared CEO leadership patterns in two configurations: the simple bureaucracy and entrepreneurial adhocracy (Mintzberg, 1983). The consumer banking and software development industries were used to represent the simple bureaucracy (consumer banking) and the entrepreneurial adhocracy (software development) configurations. Two pretests indicated that these industries match the contextual and structural characteristics identified by Mintzberg. First, semi-structured interviews were conducted with an upper executive in each industry. Second, a manipulation check was included on the mailed survey to assess the two samples quantitatively. Participants in this study included upper-echelon managers. These individuals described their CEOs according to Manz and Sims's (1991) typology, which is comprised of four broad leadership types: the strongman, transactor, visionary, and SuperLeader. Data were received from 71 software firms and 97 banks. Four hypotheses were tested. The first two predicted that the strongman and transactor archetypes would be more prevalent in simple bureaucracies than in entrepreneurial adhocracies. Hypotheses three and four predicted that CEOs in entrepreneurial adhocracies would have higher visionary leadership and SuperLeadership ratings than in simple bureaucracies. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) indicated that only a single sub-dimension (instruction and command under the strongman archetype) was significantly different. Based on the results of this study, it appears that the leadership profiles in both configurations were virtually identical.

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Recommended Citation

Grinnell, James Paul, "An application of configurational theory to compare CEO leadership styles in entrepreneurial organizations" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3000308.