Dissertation: Will you give a new leader a chance? – one can get stuck on negativity

Hilpi Kangas
The first year of a new leader can be challenging – particularly if he or she comes from outside the organisation, reveals Hilpi Kangas' doctoral dissertation.

In addition to a new working environment and new colleagues, it is an additional challenge for a new leader to assume his or her position as a leader and to develop leader-subordinate relationships with his or her new team. Often, they also need to develop the operations and implement changes.

–  Particularly for those coming from outside the organisation and particularly the first year can be really challenging. It can also for its part define how the new leader succeeds in the future, says Hilpi Kangas, who is defending her doctoral dissertation on 23rd October in the University of Vaasa.

According to the doctoral dissertation, the success of a new leader may have been sealed already before he or she even starts in the new position. The anticipatory expectations of subordinates may have a big impact on the chances that a leader has to act as a leader and to develop relationships with his or her subordinates.

– If the subordinates have, for example, very much liked their previous leader, attitudes and expectations toward the new leader may be negative. This may have an influence on the relationship with the new leader developing in a negative way also in the future.

Subordinates may also have a strong idea about how things should be done, i.e., a strong expectation toward how the new leader should act. Therefore, a new leader should balance bringing something new to the organisation whilst maintaining things and practices that are important for the subordinates. It is important to identify the necessary points of development, as well as the things that have been done just out of habit.

Unofficial communication builds relationships

According to the doctoral dissertation, the development of leader-subordinate relationships may take time. In her dissertation, Kangas particularly highlights the important role of unofficial communication and interaction in the development of good leader-subordinate relationships and trust. Indeed, it would be worthwhile for a new leader to invest in taking coffee breaks and lunches with his or her subordinates and exchanging news with them.

– Even though a new place and role may require a lot of new kinds of skills and getting on top of official matters, it would also be important for a new leader to create unofficial and personal links to the organisation and to the new team. In other words, to get to know people on a personal level, says Kangas.

– The employee, on the other hand, should take as open-minded as possible an attitude to the situation and to give the new leader a "break". The employee should also be proactive in getting to know the new leader.

The organisation, on the other hand, should acknowledge the possible challenges in the situation and offer support both for the new leader and the subordinates.

For example, expectations and thoughts should be discussed openly – already before the new leader starts in his or her work. In this connection, it would also be possible to discuss the role of the new leader and the expectations and wishes relating to the job.

– It is important in the induction of the new leader to also take into account the unofficial dimension so that he or she could create leader-subordinate relationships in his or her new team that work as well as possible. Additionally, he or she should be aware of the team's expectations.

Failure of a new leader in his or her position is not to the benefit of anyone, it has unfortunate consequences both for the leader and for the whole organisation.

Leadership is undergoing a transformation

Hilpi Kangas' doctoral dissertation in Human Resource Management studies leader-subordinate relationships in challenging situations, changing roles and operating environments. According to Kangas, leader-subordinate relationships and leadership should be seen as part of a larger context.

– Today's leaders face many different challenging situations and operating environments in fast-changing organisations.

In addition to new leaders, Kangas has also studied in her doctoral dissertation negative events in the interaction between supervisors and subordinates, as well as physical distance between supervisors and subordinates. She has reviewed leader-subordinate relationships through the Leader-member exchange (LMX) theory.

Arguments, misunderstandings and disagreements between supervisors and subordinates may lead to the subordinates losing trust in their supervisor. This may even lead to a job change due to a reason relating to the supervisor. In her dissertation, Kangas studied the characteristics of these breaches.

A topical subject in the doctoral dissertation is also a physical distance in leader-subordinate relationships. According to a study concerning the well-being at work of expatriates, physical distance in itself did not have a direct impact on the job satisfaction of subordinates, but the quality of supervisor-subordinate relationships had a significant impact.

In a low-quality leader-subordinate relationship, physical distance may have supported the well-being of a subordinate. If, on the other hand, the leader-subordinate relationship was good, the impact was the opposite, revealed the doctoral dissertation.

Several different methods have been used in Kangas' doctoral dissertation: longitudinal case study, qualitative review of open answers, as well as surveys.

Public defence

The public examination of M.Sc. Hilpi Kangas’s doctoral dissertation ”Contextualizing leadership. An examination of Leader-Member Exchange relationships in the challenging contexts of a new leader, negative events and globalized work” will be held on Friday 23 October at noon.

The public examination will be organized online: https://uwasa.zoom.us/j/63279443195?pwd=WWYzZWVsVjJ4U2RVZVUxK2dTY0hTQT09 Password: 077518

The field of dissertation is Management.

Professor Taina Savolainen (University of Eastern Finland) will act as opponent and Professor Liisa Mäkelä as custos. The examination will be held in Finnish.

Kangas, Hilpi (2020) Contextualizing leadership. An examination of Leader-Member Exchange relationships in the challenging contexts of a new leader, negative events and globalized work. Acta Wasaensia 449. Doctoral dissertation. Vaasan yliopisto. University of Vaasa.

Pdf of the publication: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-476-925-9

Further information

Hilpi Kangas, tel. +358 50 401 4370 , email: hilpi.kangas (at) uwasa.fi

Hilpi Kangas was born in 1985 in Kuopio. Currently, a resident in Espoo, Kangas completed her matriculation examination at Laajasalo Upper Secondary School in 2004. She earned her Master of Economy degree at the University of Vaasa in 2012. Currently, Kangas works as university teacher in the academic unit of management at University of Vaasa.

Did you like the article?