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Leadership and Communication Barrier

1.   Introduction

.Leadership is a set of developed skills that attempts to influence or change the behavior of others in order to accomplish organizational, individual and personal goals・ (Kossen, 1991).  Hence, it is part of manager・s job and one of the main factors determining group behavior (Steers et al, 1996; Betts, 1993).  Effective leadership has a positive effect on the morale of the group and helps employees to enjoy feeling of commitment towards organizational goals and perceiving of satisfaction of own needs (Handy, 1999; Kossen, 1991). 

The purpose of this report is to analyze the conflict at Medical Supplies Limited by identifying the problems, matching the problems with literature researches and drawing a conclusion for the root problem.  Several alternatives based on the conclusion will be suggested for consideration.  Finally, a recommendation and plan of actions for the problem resolution will be derived to fit the situation of the case.

2.   Problem identification

The problems of the conflict at Medical Supplies Limited are identified as following:

(1)   There are individual differences among the group members.  Gordon Steele (the leader) was university graduated and the other members came from poor part of the town.

(2)   Harry Katama (the informal leader) had a strong influence and the other group members tended to follow his instruction without argument.

(3)   Gordon was emphasized on standard procedures and there was obviously a lack of face-to-face communication among the group.

(4)   Gordon adopted decision-making style by his own without consulting the group members.

(5)   Harry perceived that he was the one to control the surgical stores section.  He tended to control information flow within his section and resisted to any change when Gordon violated his habit.

(6)   There was an explicit conflict between Gordon and Harry.  Gordon tried to settle with his power and authority.

3.   Analysis of the problems

Based on the problem identification, Gordon is obviously a key person in the conflict situation.  The case is therefore analyzed with Gordon・s leadership behavior and its effects to the group effectiveness.   

3.1 Gordon・s leadership behavior

There are several potential sources of influence on leadership behavior.  The analysis here is limited to the characteristics of subordinates, the task, and Gordon・s perception due to insufficient information provided (Corbett, 2001; Kossen, 1991; Hersey, 1996).

Characteristics of subordinates

Gordon was inclined to supervise closely as the workers were unskilled and generally low intelligence.  There was significant difference between their background: the subordinates came from the poor part of the town, while Gordon was university graduated.  Hence, the level of trust between Gordon and the group was low.

The task

The task was simple and routine so the company recruited unskilled workers to lower costs.  As the jobs were highly structured, Gordon was inclined to be very directive (Corbett, 2001).  Therefore, he tended to control his subordinates with standard guidelines and procedures without delegation.

Gordon・s perception

Based on Gordon・s advice to the three student trainees, he tended to perceive the subordinates in negative and suspicious ways.  He followed Theory X assumptions and believed that the subordinates disliked work, avoided responsibility, and might be coerced to work hard (Hilgert et al, 1995; Yoder et al, 1996).  His perception was also shaped by past experience in the Army that subordinates had to obey their supervisors. 

The analysis of leadership behavior shows that Gordon was task-motivated individual who needed to get things done and ignored the needs of the group (Corbett, 2001).  Autocratic leadership style dominated his behavior, which was characteristic by high concern for the task and low concern for people (Schermerhorn, 1996; Yoder et al, 1996; Hilgert et al, 1995).  He believed close control and supervision could make sure that the task was being accomplished.  He did not trust the subordinates and believed detailed instructions would help them to get the jobs done.  He made all the decisions and delegated as little authority as possible.  He used his position power to influence the work performance of the group.  Communication came in the form of instructions and was directed to the group. 

3.2 The effects of the leadership behavior

Gordon・s leadership behavior neglected the attributes of the group.  The communication barriers intensified their differences and eventually affected decision-making and overall group performance.     

3.2.1    Attributes of group

The effects of the leadership behavior were related to some of the attributes of the group: power and authority, roles and status.

Power and authority

Gordon・s leadership behavior made the subordinates feel uncertainty about authority and how power would be distributed among them.  The group was in the conflict subphase (Corbett, 2001) as Harry showed his rebellion against the direction from Gordon.  He engaged to individual centered behavior (Yoder et al, 1996), which was contradicted to the group・s task.  He also tried to challenge Gordon・s authority, power and decisiveness with open hostility.

Gordon mistakenly positioned himself to legitimate power by reminding Harry that he was the boss in order to settle the conflict (Schermerhorn, 1996).  He did not understand that respect had to be earned and loyalty built with his work focusing on people not his own achievement (Taylor, 1999).  Consequently, Harry reacted negatively and felt pressure to follow the directions as there was no mutual trust among the group.


Gordon was in an inter-role conflict as he occupied multiple roles (Rosenfeld et al, 1999).  He was expected by his formal authority to make decisions that were good for the organization (like the new procedure for better work flow).  On the other hand, he was also expected by the subordinates to make decisions and fight for the good of the group (Harry did not want to change).  Hence fulfilling one role automatically made satisfying other expectations difficult.   

Harry was in person-role conflict (Rosenfeld et al, 1999) as he was expected to follow Gordon・s directives but he felt that he should be the one to run and make decision for the surgical stores section.  He also adopted individual centered role and ignored the goals of the group (Yoder et al, 1996).  He ignored the protest from the other members and insisted not to follow Gordon・s directive.  

Inter-sender role conflict (Rosenfeld et al, 1999) also occurred in the group when Gordon needed to implement the new procedure while Harry insisted to follow the old rule.  The other group members could not meet both sets of expectations.

Consequently, Gordon・s current behavior was not compatible with the present expectations of the group.  The role conflict tended to be associated with negative effects such as tension and low job satisfaction (Tubre, 2000). 


Harry was granted high status in the group because he worked in the company for 17 years (Corbett, 2001).  He was the informal leader and was highly respected by all twelve members in surgical stores section.  The group members learnt not to argue with him when he told them to do something in order to save his face.  As he worked closely with group members, he also had the power to influence the perception of the others.  

3.2.2        Communication barriers

The lack of communication resulted in contradictory information that contributed to role conflict discussed above (Tubre, 2000).  Gordon adopted one-way communication and the lack of face-to-face communication broke down trust and influenced perception and interpretation of events (Betts, 1993).  Both Gordon and Harry had communication barriers.

Gordon・s communication barriers

Gordon had communication barrier in status differences (Corbett, 2001).  He chose to use formal written communication that did not allow feedback.  He did not listen to the subordinates for any ideas and suggestions.  The subordinates perceived that he was difficult to be accessed.  This communication method was ineffective as the message might be set aside (Harry resisted the change) and overlooked, the lack of opportunity for the sender to observe and interpret nonverbal forms of communication (the grievance from Harry) (Kossen, 1991). 

In Gordon・s frame of reference (Corbett, 2001), he interpreted the group with Theory X assumption.  According to Hilgert et al (1995), autocratic leadership is not conductive to developing employees・ talents, and it tends to frustrate ambitious and potential employees like Harry.  The negative effect was that Harry adopted individual centered role (Yoder et al, 1996) and tried to control the information flow in his section in order to fulfill his needs of security.  He strongly resented Gordon・s supervision and held a hostile attitude towards Gordon such as secretly rejoiced for Gordon・s decision to purchase a wrong forklift truck and resisted to carry out Gordon・s directive to the new procedure.

Harry・s communication barriers

Gordon was a task-motivated person and tried to achieve organizational goals without paying attention to the social relationship with the group members.  However, Harry perceived in different frame of reference that Gordon just looked at the money.  He selectively listened to Gordon・s directives (Corbett, 2001).  But when the directive had violated his personal goal, he ignored it because he did not trust Gordon with the value judgment that Gordon did not have the credibility (Gordon made wrong decisions previously) (Corbett, 2001).  Due to the communication barriers, Harry was fear of change because he could not predict what the change would mean in terms of his own positions, activities, or abilities (Hilgert et al, 1995).  Conflict therefore occurred when Harry perceived that his interest was obstructed and negatively affected by Gordon (Aquino, 2000).

3.2.3    Decision-making style

Gordon adopted decision-making style by his own without involving the group.  The decision of changing the procedure centrally affected the working procedure or the .responsibility・ perceived by Harry.  He was lack of sensitivity that his subordinates might like to feel that their ideas were of value and worthy of consideration especially when outcomes directly affected them (Rosenfeld et al, 1999; Kossen, 1991).  Consequently, Harry resisted to the change as it would affect his responsibility and control in the surgical stores section, and in the extreme, the need of security in his job and morale.

4.   Conclusion

Gordon・s leadership behavior neglected the attributes of the group.  He wrongly used legitimate power to handle the conflict situation and faced with strong rebellion from Harry.  He did not make use of roles to predict behaviors of the group and disappointed the subordinates as their expectations were not satisfied.  He did not respect Harry・s status and ignored Harry・s strong influence to the others.  There were obviously communication barriers among the group.  Individual differences were not clarified and the lack of face-to-face communication resulting misunderstanding and low level of trust among the group.  Gordon・s decision-making style had also violated the needs and expectations from the group.  To conclude, Gordon・s autocratic leadership style with task-motivated was not workable in the working environment.

5.   Alternatives for resolution

The alternatives for the problem resolution are suggested using Fiedler・s Contingency Model. 

This model proposes that effective groups depend upon a proper match between a leader・s style of interacting with subordinates and the degree to which the situation gives control and influence to the leader (Corbett, 2001; Hersey et al, 1996; Rosenfeld et al, 1999; Schermerhorn, 1996; Hulpke, 2001).  The leadership situation is diagnosed by the three contingency variables: the leader-member relations is poor as the group did not support Gordon; the task structure is high for its simple and routine work; the position power is strong as Gordon had the reward and coercive power.  Hence, Gordon・s leadership style was ineffective as he faced a moderate control situation as shown in Figure 1 (Schermerhorn, 1996):

Seven alternatives are developed based on above:

Alternatives 1-5: Change situational elements

Alternative 1: Improve leader-member relations

Alternative 2: Improve leader-member relations and reduce position power

Alternative 3: Improve leader-member relations and reduce task structure

Alternative 4: Reduce task structure

Alternative 5: Reduce both task structure and position power

Alternatives 1-5 can benefit Gordon to remain his task-oriented style.  Increasing leader-member relations helps to improve trust, communication and meet the needs and expectations of the subordinates.  It also helps to increase group cohesiveness as the goals of the group and the members are compatible and clearly specified (Corbett, 2001).  Reducing task structure helps to improve the work and motivation of the group, resulting higher morale.  Decreasing position power helps decentralization and delegation, finally increases the importance of the subordinates and satisfies their needs. 

However, the change of situational elements involves an integration of organizational change.  It is cost- and time-consuming as it may need to change the current work processes.  To the leader・s side, Gordon may resist to reduce task structure and power as he is task-motivated.  He is also required to take extensive training to improve the leader-member relations.  To the subordinates・ side, they are required to change the expectations through training and coaching.  Another concern is whether the unskilled and low intelligence workers have the competency to do complex job and be delegated.  It is also possible that some people may resist change and prefer to the original state.

Alternative 6: Change of leadership style

Gordon can try to change his leadership style to relationship-oriented to match the situation.

The advantage of relationship-oriented style is concerned with doing a good job with primary orientation towards good interpersonal relations with others (Corbett, 2001).  The subordinates feel respected and supported by the leader, which meet their needs and hence trust and loyalty can be built (Schermerhorn, 1996).  Also, relationship-oriented leaders tolerate different viewpoints and are good at dealing with complex problems that require creative and resourceful thinking (Corbett, 2001).

On the other hand, one of the most difficult changes to make is a complete change in the style of a person.  As Fiedler (Hersey et al, 1996) suggests that .a person・s leadership style reflects the individual・s basic motivational and need structure・.  It is not completely impossible, but it is a very time- and cost-consuming process that requires creative planning and patience depends on the size and complexity of the organization (Hersey et al, 1996).

Alternative 7: Restructure the whole group

Gordon can choose to restructure the whole group and recruit with same personalities to be compatible, while complement each other for same goals and objectives (Hersey et al, 1996). 

Hiring .likes・ can lead to a more harmonious group behavior and reduce conflict and confrontation.  But on the cost side, the group will lose different points of view to encourage new ideas and patterns of behavior, which eventually will lose its ability to external competition (Hersey et al, 1996).  It is also no guarantee that the newly hired persons can work well each other. 

6.   Recommendation

Based on the advantages and disadvantages of the different alternatives, it is recommended to use Alternative 3: changing situational elements by improving leader-member relations and reducing task structure.  Such changes can help the leader to improve communication to understand the group and to improve task structure to meet the needs and expectations of the subordinates, consequently increasing motivation, improving morale and group effectiveness.  It also takes into consideration that it is difficult to reduce power for task-motivated leaders according to Fiedler・s theory and to delegate unskilled and low intelligence workers.

7.   Plan of actions

The following plan of actions are suggested: 

(1)   To improve leader-member relations 

P        Understand the underlying problem of the conflict immediately V Gordon should sit down immediately with Harry to understand the underlying problem of the conflict.  Gordon should calm down and avoid using legitimate power to solve the problem.  He should respect individual difference and handle the problem in fair and patient manner.  The conflict should be settled without delay because it is detriment to the group effectiveness.  He should expect there is resistance from Harry and it may need to take a long time to change Harry・s attitude and behavior. 

P        Let the subordinates understand the leadership behavior V After the conflict has been settled, Gordon should hold a meeting as soon as possible to let the subordinates understand his leadership behavior.  He should emphasize that he is task-oriented style, but he also wants to fulfill both organizational and individual goals of the group members.  He should clarify the expectations and roles of each other to avoid future conflict.  He should allow any ideas and suggestions from the subordinates in order to improve the situation.  

P        Hold weekly meetings to facilitate communication - Gordon should hold weekly meeting to keep people informed and involved with any organizational movements so that the subordinates・ confidence and trust is earned.  It also helps to understand group problems and try to alleviate them.  Feedback on any organizational issues should be welcomed. 

P        Become more available to the subordinates V Gordon should be always available and visible to the subordinates to give assistance and support.  Although this is very time-consuming, Gordon should learn how to balance his work to gain the advantages. 

P        Raise morale by obtaining positive outcomes for subordinates V Gordon can offer special bonuses such as celebrations for task completion or time off to improve group cohesiveness, as well as motivation and morale.  He may also want to involve human resource department for any suggestions of extrinsic rewards. 

(2)   To reduce task structure 

P        Involve the group in problem solving and decision-making V Gordon can involve the group with simple and structure problems that relate to the group・s tasks.  The group members are required to be trained and coached to the skills of problem solving.  Therefore, it may take time to be effective. 

P        Redesign job structure V Gordon can redesign the job structure to increase the work complexity, such as job enlargement or job enrichment.  However this change will require integration of the whole work processes of the organization, hence it requires time and money.  Gordon has to involve the top management and human resource department for effective implementation.  Resistance should be expected as some employees may want to remain as original state.  

(3)   Extensive training is required

In order to have the change to be effective, extensive training is required for all the employees concerned.  This can be done through outside/inside training courses or on-the-job training.  Gordon should coordinate with human resource management for effective implementation. 

(4)  Follow up and re-evaluation is also required to ensure the recommendation and plan of actions are effective and efficient.

Reference List

Aquino, Karl (2000), .Structural and Individual Determinants of Workplace Victimization: The Effects of Hierarchical Status and Conflict Management Style・, Journal of Management, [Online, accessed on 24 May 2001]

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