Leader = Linker

I am a regular reader of Dick McCann since 2003 through my link with Team Management System . This month he wrote an article on leadership which together with his colleague Charles Margerison, they have developed in the 90’s. I fully subscribe to the idea that a leader is after all a communicator and needs to create links at all levels.

I would like also to highlight the summary of Dick McCann on the 40 years of Popular leadership which is well documented. The references provided are treasures for the keen reader on leadership and provide sources for further studies.

I would encourage you to enrol in one of the Team Management Systems seminar to enhance your leadership skills.

Leadership Through Linking

By Dick McCann

Copyright © Dick McCann. All rights reserved.

Popular leadership theories over the past 40 years or so have been developed based on the identification of two particular phases of development of followers and associates. Blake and Mouton back in 1964 proposed five management styles based on the dimensions of initiating structure relating to the task and initiating consideration toward the individual. Low, medium and high leader behaviors on these two dimensions created the various styles. Although the conceptual clarity of the model was appealing, extensive subsequent research demonstrated that the leadership style which was most effective was not necessarily a high-high on each dimension. It all depended strongly on the situation and the challenge.

Fiedler then proposed that leadership style is a constant characteristic of each person. The challenge was therefore to match the leader and the situation. Subsequently Vroom and Yetton took the idea of a flexible leadership style further and developed a model where the appropriate style depended on the type of problem addressed. Further research by Hooijberg confirmed that were indeed strong associations between a manager’s behavior repertoire and effectiveness – suggesting that a portfolio of behaviors is the most desirable and achievable skill set.

Leadership models such as those developed by Hersey and Blanchard have also been very successful in identifying appropriate leadership styles based upon two phases of development of followers, resulting in the dimensions of Supportive and Directive leadership behavior. The idea is that most people will respond to a leadership style that has various combinations of supportive and directive behavior, depending on the situation they are in.

Supportive behaviors include:

  • Listening to problems
  • Encouraging and reassuring
  • Facilitating followers’ problem-solving and task accomplishment
  • Setting work in context
  • Praising task accomplishment

Directive behaviors include:

  • Setting clear goals and objectives
  • Defining priorities and deadlines
  • Giving precise instructions on unfamiliar tasks
  • Checking and supervising
  • Clear role accountability

A similar variant of this situational-developmental approach was proposed by Schein, but with a situational variable of organizational development. Each phase of an organization’s life requires a different set of responses from their leaders, depending on the organizational life cycle – young, midlife, mature, declining or rejuvenating. This focuses attention on the necessity for leaders to adapt their leadership style to the culture of the organization they lead.

However it is not only the life cycle of an organization that influences the ‘situation’. Organizational values are equally important. Some organizations value Compliance where organizational objectives are determined by senior management and rolled throughout the organization without question. Such a culture often discourages risk-taking and even the acceptance of responsibility but such an authoritarian, directive leadership style can well be effective in delivering results. Other organizations will value Empowerment and encourage the appropriate challenging of assumptions about how to do things better, thereby creating openness and confidence and an adaptive approach to leadership.

These various approaches to leadership are all dependent on ‘the situation’ and are often grouped under the heading of ‘contingency theories’. More recently they have also been grouped under the heading of transactional leadership. Such approaches assume effective leadership involves the exchange of reinforcements that are based upon established theories of social exchange, such as that of contingent reward: “If you do this for me/us, I/we will do this for you.”

By contrast, transformational leadership styles result in considerably enhanced effects on followers (Bass and Avolio). They argued that transactional – transformational leadership represents a leadership paradigm which is now supported by evidence gathered from all continents. This paradigm views leadership as either a matter of contingent reinforcement of followers by a transactional leader or the moving of followers beyond their self-interest for the good of the group, organization, or society by a transformational leader.

Transformational leader styles are not an alternative to transactional behaviors but an enhancement designed to produce increased levels of satisfaction, efficiency and extra-effort. Many studies have confirmed the efficacy of transformational leader styles in bringing about superior outcomes using independent indicators (for example, Podsakoff et al). Others have also found that managers who were better managers differed significantly from weaker managers in their use of transformational leader styles.

The Linking Leader

In the 1990s Charles Margerison and I viewed successful leadership as skill set that is primarily about relationships. Excellent leaders monitor and develop relationships among their followers and ensure that this emphasis is rolled down from their direct reports to the bottom-most layers of the organization. For us, leadership is about Linking – a set of behaviors arising out of acquired skills that encourage the coordination and integration of followers, thereby creating a unified team that knows where it is going and how to get there.

Our model is a multi-level leadership model tailored to meet the needs of team leadership. It identifies three levels of Linking that have differential effects on outcomes such as satisfaction, effectiveness, results, and extra effort. The model is cumulative in that the successful implementation of any level depends upon the level below being effectively implemented.

The three levels are shown in the Linking Leader Model below.

The outer six skills – the People Linking Skills – are the level 1 skills of successful team leadership, but they aren’t the sole domain of the team leader. The must be also be implemented by everyone in the team. These People Linking activities relate directly to the initiating consideration for the individual dimension of Blake’s grid or the Supporting dimension of the Hersey and Blanchard models. It is not surprising that the activities identified in our research align with the work of previous leadership researchers.

Level 2 skills are the five Task Linking Skills of Objectives Setting, Quality Standards, Work Allocation, Team Development, and Delegation. These relate directly to the initiating structure relating to the task of Blake’s grid or the Directive dimension of the Hersey and Blanchard models. Task Linking Skills tend to be the responsibility of the more senior members of a team who may supervise more junior team members. Such team members would be expected to successfully implement both People Linking Skills and Task Linking Skills.

Level 3 skills are the two Leadership Linking Skills of Motivation and Strategy. They relate specifically to transformational leadership skills. The team leader must implement all three levels of the Linking Leader Model in order to be fully effective.

Let’s examine briefly what I think is the most important of the Linking Skills and one that is often poorly implemented. It sounds simple but very few people do it well. It is Communication.

Communication as a cybernetic process

When we interact with others, we translate our model of the world into words and use these to attain our outcomes. These words and the supporting communication aids (tone, tempo, and body positions) very much reflect our own views of the world. Therefore when people try to communicate, there is potential for conflict to arise, as different models of the world are interacting. When opposites come together, there is a great potential for things to go wrong and the discussion or conversation may well be doomed before the first word has been uttered.

Communication is a cybernetic process, ever dynamic and constantly changing. When Person A transmits a message it travels in a forward arc to Person B who responds, and a return message is received by Person A. The response arc contains a variety of messages, verbal and nonverbal and should affect what Person A transmits next. The success of communication lies in extracting meaning from the response arc and reformulating a new forward arc that moves the conversation in the right direction. In cybernetic theory this is called ‘adaptive control’. By constantly varying the content and delivery of the transmitted message a rapport loop can be quickly established between conversing parties. This is known as the technique of ‘pacing’.

Communication loop

Cybernetic processes are governed by the Law of Requisite Variety which, stated simply, says that in any process operating systemically, the elements in the system that have the greatest adaptability or variety are those that gain control. In other words, if Person A constantly adapts their forward arc (based on the information from the response arc), they will be able to influence the results of the interaction.

Pacing is a technique for temporarily modifying your model of the world so that it matches the other person’s. This matching shows the other person that you understand ‘where they are coming from’. Unless you take time to establish ‘a pace’ early in the conversation, the chances of a successful interaction occurring are markedly reduced. Equally the person you are communicating with needs to pace you in the same way. When a ‘pacing partnership’ is established communication flows freely and successful outcomes can be generated in a surprisingly short time.

There are two types of Pacing – ‘strategic pacing’ and ‘operational pacing’. Strategic Pacing involves setting a strategy for the way you intend to structure an impending conversation, using all the knowledge you have about the other person’s model of the world. Operational Pacing is the technique to use when the conversation is actually in progress. For further information on these important concepts have a look at To help people understand and implement the concepts of Linking we have written a personal development e-learning module. This module discusses the 13 skills of Linking in much more detail and also enables you to fill in a profile questionnaire relating to another person you would like to influence. The resulting Pacing Skills Profile will give you specific tips to implement when you communicate with this person.

Exclusive offer to Learning Exchange Members

Team Management Systems is offering a free Linking With Others e-learning module (retail USD$50) to all Learning Exchange Members. Simply to receive your module. Please note that you must register before August 28th 2009 and the offer is limited to 1 module per member.


  • Blake, R.R., and Mouton, J.S., (1964), Houston, Texas: Gulf.
  • Fiedler, F.E., (1967), New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Vroom, V.H., and Yetton, P.W., (1976), Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Hooijberg, R., (1996), ‘A multidirectional approach toward leadership: An extension of the concept of behavioral complexity, Human-Relations, 49(7), 917-946.
  • Schein, E.H., (1992), (2nd ed.), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Hersey, P., Blanchard, K., and Johnson, D.E., (2007), (9th ed.), Prentice Hall.
  • Bass, B.M., and Avolio, B.J., (1993a), ‘Transformational leadership and organizational structure, International Journal of Public Administration Quarterly, 17.
  • Podsakoff, P.M., MacKenzie, S.B., Moorman, R.H., and Fetter, R., (1990), ‘Transformational leader behaviors and their effects on followers’ trust in leader, satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behaviors’, Leadership Quarterly, 1(2). 107-142.


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