Leadership attribution theory deals with the formation of individual opinions about the reasons for particular events or observations. People will always try to understand why people do what they do. The leader will pass judgment on his employees based on his attribution of the causes of employee performance. Individuals will also make inferences about the leader and react to the leader’s poor performance.
Attribution theory is attributed to the work of Heider (1958), Jones and Davis (1965), and Kelley (1967, 1972, 1973). Attribution became an active area of organizational behavior research in the 1980s. It is a model of leadership assessment that assumes that individuals make inferences about leadership ability by observing and interpreting certain environmental and behavioral cues. Attribution theory is best understood through an example. If you have a good relationship with someone, you are more likely to rate that person’s performance favorably. However, on the other hand, if someone else constantly irritates you in the wrong way, you might be more inclined to assess that person’s performance in a punitive way.
People try to identify the reasons for observed events by collecting information that can help explain them. People are constantly trying to form chains of cause and effect explanations for observed incidents and experiences. These attributions by humans help them assign order to the world around them and increase their ability to understand the behavior of self and others.
Attribution theory deals with:
- Formation of individual opinions about the reasons for particular events or observations.
- Forming opinions about the behavior of others
- Formation of opinions about oneself
- How individuals explain their own successes and failures
- How individuals explain the behaviors and outcomes of others
- Whether the cause of the behavior is a characteristic of the subscriber (an internal attribute)
- Whether the cause of the behavior is a characteristic of the situation (an external attribute)
- Whether a follower’s behavior is likely to remain constant (stable)
- Whether a follower’s behavior is likely to change over time (unstable)
Attribution theory describes how individuals develop causal explanations for behaviors and outcomes, and how their causal explanations influence subsequent reactions. People view behavior as being caused either by the individual (i.e. dispositional) or by the environment (situational). It distinguishes between internal and external causes.
Leadership attribution theory:
It is a leadership assessment model that assumes that individuals make inferences about leadership ability by observing and interpreting certain environmental and behavioral cues. A two-step leadership attribution model was proposed by Green and Mitchell (1979) suggesting that leaders attribute (try to understand) the cause of performance before deciding the appropriate action to take. An attribute directs various factors for the performance of a follower (internal, external, stable, unstable). These attributed attributions influence the leader’s expectations for future performance as well as his behavior towards the follower.
The attribution model suggests that leaders observe the behavior of their followers, make inferences about the causes of that behavior (i.e., whether it is the result of internal, personal or external, circumstantial factors) , then respond based on those inferences. . Attribution is the name given to this subjective process, in that we attribute causes, results, problems, etc., to others, often with less than adequate information on which to base our judgment.
Internal factors influencing behavior
Internal attributions include lack of follower interest, inexperienced followers, absenteeism of followers, or any other cause due to the side of the follower.
If a leader attributes a follower’s poor performance to internal factors such as low effort or lack of ability, they may reprimand, fire, or provide training to the affected employee. If a manager attributes an employee’s poor performance to a lack of effort, it will have a negative impact on the employee’s performance rating.
External factors influencing behavior
External causes include poor performance mainly due to machine failure, tool failure, material inventory problem, material quality problem or any other causes due to external factors, which beyond the control of subscribers.
If, however, poor performance is attributed to external factors such as a lack of materials or overwork, the leader should focus on those factors and improve the situation instead of giving negative feedback to the employee. . If a manager perceives that an employee’s poor performance is due to a lack of skills, they can most likely assign the employee to the required training or provide assistance in terms of instruction or coaching.
Corrective action by leader
The leader will take corrective action:
- Towards the situation, if it attributes performance problems to external causal factors
- To the follower when attributing the performance issue to internal factors
For example, a manager who makes an internal attribution by concluding that an employee’s poor performance on a recent project was due to personal characteristics that led to a lack of motivation, he is likely to decide on a more severe disciplinary sanction. . Corrective actions are more likely to be punitive in nature when attributed to lack of effort
However, if he made an external attribution by attributing the reason for the poor performance to the situation like a lockdown situation, for example due to the corona pandemic, the person was unable to visit customers and therefore the decline in sales volume, the manager’s corrective action will be aimed at remedying the situation.
Applicability to Organizations/Leadership
Attribution is essential to management because the judgments and actions of managers and employees are often based on perceived causes of behavior. Here are some implications for organizations:
- Influencing employee perception based on observed performance and derived attributions to causes
- Managers will make a performance-related judgment based on observed behavior and attributions
- Inaccurate judgment on the causes of poor performance can have negative repercussions for the organization
- Attribution can influence employee motivation both positively and negatively
- Understanding attributions can improve management effectiveness
What is leadership attribution theory?
Leadership attribution theory assumes that individuals make inferences about leadership ability by observing and interpreting certain environmental and behavioral cues. Leaders attribute (try to understand) the cause of performance before deciding the appropriate action to take. An attribute directs various factors for the performance of a follower (internal, external, stable, unstable). These attributed attributions influence the leader’s expectations for future performance as well as his behavior towards the follower.
What is an example of attribution theory?
An example of attribution theory might be a manager who makes an internal attribution by concluding that an employee’s poor performance on a recent project was due to personal characteristics that led to a lack of motivation. Once he has made such a judgment, he is likely to decide on more severe disciplinary action. In this case, the corrective action is more likely to be punitive in nature because it has been attributed by the manager to a lack of effort.
What is an example of external attribution?
An example of a manager making external attribution is when he assumes that the employee’s poor performance is due to external situations. For example, due to the confinement situation created by the corona pandemic, the employee could not visit customers to make sales calls, and therefore there was an observed drop in sales volume. In this case, the manager has attributed the cause to an external attribution and the manager’s corrective action will aim to remedy the situation either by lowering his goals or by seeking virtual sales opportunities.
What does attribution theory mean?
Attribution theory means a lot to management because it establishes that the judgments and actions of managers and employees are often based on perceived causes of behavior. Managers make perceptions about employees based on observed performance and derived attributions to causes. Managers will eventually make judgments about performance based on observed behavior and attributions. These decisions based on attributions can influence employee motivation both positively and negatively and, therefore, understanding attributions can improve management effectiveness.
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