Home Organizational Psychology Leadership Toward an Adlerian Leadership Model I: Introduction, Lit Review, and Methodology

Toward an Adlerian Leadership Model I: Introduction, Lit Review, and Methodology

45 min read

by Joyce Lai, MPsy

This series was originally completed as a Thesis in partial fulfillment of Adler Graduate Professional School’s Master of Psychology degree. Joyce Lai is a PsyD candidate at the Professional School of Psychology.


I want to acknowledge Dr. Adam Lodzinski, my professor and thesis supervisor, for his invaluable support, patience, knowledge, insights, and great ideas. As well, I want to express my sincere appreciation for my mentor, first Adlerian teacher, and thesis second reader, Dr. James Bitter, for introducing me to the Adlerian framework – you have changed my life and how I view the world. I am also grateful for the friendship and continued support of my dear friend (and inspiration of “who I want to be when I grow up”), Dr. Ralph Shedletsky. Lastly, I want to thank all the participants in this study who have taken time from their busy schedule to speak with me and share their leadership experiences.


In today’s complex business world, with ever-evolving technology and processes, shifting employee demographics, greater diversity in cultural backgrounds and linguistic skills, as well as multiple generations working together, leadership is more important now than it has been historically (Higgs & Rowland, 2005). Although the leadership phenomenon is an area that has been of interest to organizations, politicians, and scholars, the concept and operational definition of the leadership phenomenon is still not well defined. Despite the numerous studies conducted, there is a lack of consensus on what the traits of an effective leader are (Abbas & Asghar, 2010). Not only is there very little research on leadership traits for specific markets, such as in Canada where the majority of businesses falls in the “small to medium size” range, but very little literature available historically about the Adlerian approach to leadership (Dinkmeyer & Eckstein, 1996; Dinkmeyer, 1991) and virtually nothing in the last decade. Hence, this paper will explore the leadership traits and attributes of Canadian business leaders through an Adlerian lens. Findings from this study will be used as a basis for further research in developing a new Adlerian leadership model.

Without properly identifying the effective leadership traits that build healthier and more successful businesses in Canada, organizations may be facing unnecessarily high employee turnover, as well as lacking engagement and respect from employees. This could ultimately impact not only profits but also create an environment of mistrust and increased anxiety.

Literature Review

2.1 History of Leadership

The study of leadership can be traced to the beginning of civilization. As time progressed, different leadership styles evolved in accordance with the new demands required of leaders. Over time, leaders shifted away from the traditional authoritarian style that believed employees are “intrinsically lazy” (Stone & Patterson, 2005, p.1) to a style that created an environment where people felt empowered, encouraged and supported (Stone & Patterson, 2005).

2.2 Definition of Leadership

While there is a growing body of research in examining leadership behaviour and identifying traits that lead organizations through effective change and transformation, there are also many definitions of leadership available. The reason why leadership is so difficult to define is that it has different meanings to different people and varies in different settings (Daskal, 2016; Abbas & Asghar, 2010). A recent Forbes article examined and critiqued a number of definitions of leadership and further offers a definition that refers leadership to “…a process of social influence which maximizes efforts of others towards achievement of a goal” (Kruse, 2013, para. 11). This definition of leadership includes: 1) social influence and not authority or power, 2) requires others not necessarily direct reports, 3) is not specific to personality traits, titles, styles or paths, 4) includes a goal, and 5) it maximizes efforts (Kruse, 2013). This definition reflects similar observations gathered in this study.

2.3 Leadership in Today’s World

Leadership is key for companies to achieve its goals and objectives. The leader provides direction, strategy, and fosters a culture that is essential for the growth and long-term health of an organization. Leadership styles from the past, when the workplace environment used slower processes and technology, are no longer useful. Today, leadership approaches need to be more agile and relevant. Organizations leveraging on the power of a few people at the top and deploying tactics from old hierarchical models are not keeping up with the needs of leadership today. As a result, these organizations have not developed powerful leadership; they have not designed structures and plans to invest in it—or even see the need to prioritize it (Gleeson, 2017).

Although important and much sought after, effective leadership is rare. A recent survey conducted by the Global Agenda, reported a startling 86% of respondents agree that there is a leadership crisis in the world today (Shahid, 2014). A lack of effective leadership is a global problem and impacts every level of society. Within a company, the leadership crisis weakens the organization’s efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity (Kumar, 2014). Inept leadership can cost organizations billions of dollars in lost productivity each year, as a result of high employee turnover, low morale, defiance (against authority), increased (legitimate and illegitimate) sick days, industrial sabotage, increased health costs, as well as abusive and incompetent management (Knutson & Miranda, 2000). Without proper and effective leadership, organizations are not fully equipped to handle the challenges brought about by change and transformation, nor can they stay focused on the organization’s purpose while empowering employees with a sense of purpose (Boyle, 2016).

Myatt (2013) discusses the urgent need for a leadership movement, one that: Values engagement, open dialog, and candid discourse above the insular focus on protection of personal gain. A movement is a cause greater than one’s self … A movement is intentional, impassioned, and biased toward action. A movement requires a vision that’s inclusive, collaborative, and has an orientation toward service. Most of all, a movement requires people committed to change. Leadership is not about the power and the accolades bestowed upon the leader, it’s about the betterment of those whom the leader serves. At its essence, leadership is about people. At its core, leadership is about improving the status quo, and inspiring the creation of positive change (para. 10).

Leadership, therefore, has a direct impact on the workplace’s culture, health, and well- being. Ineffective leadership may have a negative impact on the organization’s environment, generating a lack of engagement, of organizational citizenship, of mental health and wellbeing. When employees feel that they are not seen, heard, or valued and that their personal values are not aligned with the company’s goals or direction, the effects can have negative consequences on the organization (Bourassa, 2017).

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