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The co-author of a new paper that questions the methodological rigour of leadership research has suggested leaders should consider job design practices to improve workplace culture.

According to Dr Florian Klonek, Research Fellow at the Centre for Transformative Work and Design at Curtin University’s Perth campus, much of the current literature on leadership does not verify the actual effects leaders have on their workplaces.

“Traditionally, we think leaders have this massive influence on employee motivation, job satisfaction and so forth, but there are other things in job environments that also affect that,” Dr Klonek said.

The researcher, who collaborated with colleagues based in Germany to co-write the recent Leadership Quarterly article “Follower behaviour renders leader behaviour endogenous: The simultaneity problem, estimation challenges, and solutions”, added there were numerous lessons from job design that leaders could draw upon.

He particularly cited factors such as task significance, experiences of mastery, autonomy, work-related relationships and workplace conditions as factors that organisations should draw on to help make decisions about what a worker’s role should look like.

However, Dr Klonek also said getting leaders to fixate on structural factors that they can influence rather than the leadership behaviour they praise is often a hard task.

“I think it’s more tangible for people to relate it to the person, rather than to an abstract entity like the job or the organisation,” he said, admitting he can only “second-guess” as to why people gravitate in that direction.

Nevertheless, while the paper he participates in suggests there is some work to be done to better evaluate leadership practices, Dr Klonek is keen to also focus on things that can be measured effectively in the here and now, despite the public’s fixation on leadership.

“People should be wary when they hear about, ‘You should do this or that’, because the actual knowledge around how effective that leadership style is, is not very robust and I know that’s a bit unsatisfactory because people want to know ‘What should I do?’” he laughed.

“We can shift the conversation towards work design … There is more robust research that also has a huge impact on employee performance and satisfaction.”