The effects of sex of the leader, sex of the subordinate, locus of cause, stability of cause, and leader involvement on attributions and corrective actions

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The present research tested predictions of Green and Mitchell's (1979) Attributional Model of Leadership. Seventy-one male and 77 female undergraduate Introductory Psychology students served as leaders in Study I. They supervised either a male or female subordinate on a clerical task. The subordinate was a confederate of the experimenter and performed poorly due to internal-stable (Ability), internal-unstable (Effort), external-stable (Task difficulty), or external-unstable (Luck) factors. Leaders made attributions for the poor performance and rated the appropriateness of five corrective actions: (a) training; (b) punishment; (c) monitoring; (d) counseling; and (e) providing support.

Analyses revealed that leaders were more inclined to train and less inclined to counsel when the cause was stable (ability and task difficulty) rather than unstable (effort and luck). Furthermore, sex of the leader interacted with locus of cause to affect ratings of corrective actions. Male leaders responded more punitively and provided less support when the cause for poor performance was internal rather than external. Female leaders, on the other hand, indicated that it was equally appropriate to punish and support the subordinate in the internal and external cause conditions.

Studies II and III examined the effects of involvement in a work task on leaders' attributions and corrective actions. High and low involvement leaders supervised a subordinate who performed poorly due to internal-stable, external-stable, internal-unstable, and external-unstable causes. The leader made attributions for the poor performance and then rated the appropriateness of corrective actions.

The results replicated the findings of Study I for the locus and stability variables. In addition, high involvement leaders made more internal attributions for the subordinate's poor performance than did low involvement leaders. The involvement manipulation did not affect leaders' ratings of the corrective actions.

The data were interpreted to provide general support for an attributional orientation to leadership. The process by which sex of the subordinate and motivational factors bias leaders' attributions was delineated. Specific revisions were made to Green and Mitchell's Attributional Model of Leadership.