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Relationships of Leader Behavior, Subordinate Role Ambiguity and Subordinate Job

Author(s): Enzo Valenzi and Gary Dessler
Source: The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Dec., 1978), pp. 671-678
Published by: Academy of Management
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1978, Vol. 21, No. 4, 671-678.

Relationships of Leader Behavior,

Subordinate Role Ambiguity and

Subordinate Job Satisfaction
Efects of three variables, role ambiguity, leader consideration, and leader initiating structure, on subordinate

job satisfaction were investigated for 284 employees of

two electronics firms. Using correlational analysis and
analysis of variance it was concluded that leader consideration and subordinate role ambiguity, singly and
jointly, are associated with subordinate job satisfaction.
Implications for contingency theories of leadership are



Florida International University

It is now widely acknowledged that a leadership style that is effective

in one situation may be ineffective in another, and researchers are now
increasingly focusing on the importance of the match between the leadership style and the situation (Fiedler, 1967; House & Dessler, 1974; Weed,
Mitchell, & Moffitt, 1976). While there are probably an endless number
of situational factors that one might include in such a study (see, for
example, Kerr, Schriesheim, Murphy & Stogdill, 1974), some, like role ambiguity, seem to appear more often than others. The purpose of this paper is

to present some findings concerning the interaction between role ambiguity, and leader initiating structure and leader consideration, and to
describe some implications of these findings for future studies of contingency theories of leadership.

Previous research findings concerning role ambiguity seem to warrant

two conclusions: First, role ambiguity is closely associated with individual
stress; and, second, role ambgiuity may moderate the relationship between

leader behavior (initiating structure, consideration) and subordinate

Enzo Valenzi is Associate Professor of Management, School of Business and Organiza-

tional Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, Florida.

Gary Dessler is Associate Dean and Professor of Management, School of Business and

Organizational Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, Florida.


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satisfaction. Role ambiguity has been described as a function of the discre-

pancy between the information available to a position occupant and that

necessary for the adequate performance of his role (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn,
Snoek & Rosenthal, 1964), and it has emerged as an important factor in
employee morale. While such ambiguity may have a variety of sources,
its effects appear to be generally consistent and closely associated with
individual stress, tension, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. In a review of the
literature on role ambiguity, for example, Rizzo, House, and Lirtzman
(1970) concluded that role ambiguity results in undesirable consequences
for both organizational members and for organizational performance.

More recently, Keller (1975) studied a sample of 51 professional employees and concluded that role ambiguity had a highly significant and
negative correlation with satisfaction with the work itself. House and

Rizzo (1972) and Greene and Organ (1973) obtained similar findings.
Thus, while not all the evidence is supportive (e.g., Tosi, 1971), the

prevailing evidence strongly suggests that role ambiguity and satisfaction

are negatively related. The evidence concerning the moderating effects
of role ambiguity on the relationship between leader and subordinate is
not, however, as consistent. A number of findings (House, 1971; Weed
et al., 1976) suggest that role ambiguity does moderate the relationshipthat under conditions of high role ambiguity, higher levels of initiating
structure and consideration become "more important." Yet others have
recently found that role ambiguity is not such a moderator (Schriesheim

& Murphy, 1976).

The findings concerning leader consideration also seem to warrant two

conclusions: First, that consideration is usually associated with higher
employee satisfaction (Schriesheim, House & Kerr, 1976); and second,
that it probably moderates the relationship between leader initiating
structure and subordinate satisfaction. With respect to the first conclusion,

it may be that leader consideration reduces role ambiguity (or its consequences), thus increasing subordinate satisfaction under ambiguous

situations. For example, Beehr (1976) found that supervisor support

showed a "nonsignificant tendency" to reduce the strength of the relation-

ship between role ambiguity and role strain. Schriesheim et al., (1976)
found that the correlation between leader consideration and role clarity
was significantly positive. They also found a significant, positive correlation between leader consideration and subordinate satisfaction. With

respect to the moderating effects of leader consideration, Dessler (1973)

and House and Dessler (1974) found lower correlations between initiating
structure and satisfaction when the effects of leader consideration were

removed. Similar conclusions were reached by Kerr and Schriesheim

(1974) based on their review of the evidence. However, Larson, Hunt, and
Osborn (1976) recently concluded that their data ". .. clearly do not sup-

port the high (structure)-high (consideration) paradigm in either it's

interactive or additive form" (p. 638).
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Valenzi and Dessler



Finally, there is also evidence that leader initiating structure can increase subordinate satisfaction (probably by decreasing the subordinate's
role ambiguity), but here the findings are more inconsistent. House and
Mitchell (1974) suggest that leader directiveness should have a positive
correlation with subordinate satisfaction for subordinates who are en-

gaged in ambiguous tasks and that it should have a negative correlation

with satisfaction for subordinates engaged in clear tasks. While some of the

findings they review support these hypotheses, a number do not and, on

balance, suggest that a variety of other situational factors (such as subordinates' authoritarianism) also have to be considered. Downey, Sheridan
and Slocum (1975), Stinson and Johnson (1975), Vroom (1976), and

Weed et al. (1976) came to similar conclusions. In summary, findings

regarding the relationship between initiating structure and subordinate
satisfaction, and the influence of role ambiguity (if any) on this relationship, are inconsistent.
The purpose of the present study was to analyze more closely the interactions between consideration, structure, and ambiguity in order to

shed some light on some of the inconsistencies we noted. Four main

hypotheses were formulated:

Hypothesis 1-initiating structure and role ambiguity will be correlated negatively (controlling for consideration).
Hypothesis 2-role ambiguity will be a moderator of the leader consideration-subordinate satisfaction relationship.
Hypothesis 3-role ambiguity will be a moderator of the leader initiating structure-subordinate satisfaction relationship.
Hypothesis 4-the three-way interaction of role ambiguity, initiating
structure and consideration will be tested in an exploratory analysis.

Subjects and Instruments

Subjects were obtained from two medium-sized firms that manufactured electronic timing devices. Occupations represented in the sample
ranged from managerial personnel to blue-collar, assembly line workers.

Questionnaires were administered to all employees present during the

two consecutive days that researchers were on site. A total of 342 employees participated, 245 in the first firm and 97 in the second. The
research instrument was completed in a group setting with 40 to 80
employees participating at once. It was stressed that questionnaire responses were confidential, anonymity of respondents was guaranteed, and
participation was voluntary. After eliminating questionnaires with missing
Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ) or satisfaction items,
284 (83 percent) remained for analysis. All questionnaires not used were
from the blue-collar, assembly line workers.
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Supervisor behavior descriptions of initiating structure and considera-

tion were obtained using Form XII of the Ohio State Leader Behavior
Description Questionnaire (Stogdill, 1965). Employee satisfaction was
measured by utilizing the job satisfaction questionnaire developed factorially by Rizzo et al. (1970). The scale used to measure role ambiguity
was developed and reported by Rizzo et al. (1970) and has been shown

to be factorially independent of role conflict. For the present sample, internal consistency estimates (Cronbach's coefficient alpha) ranged from
.76 to .95 (see Table 1).

Data Analyses
A partial correlation was computed between role ambiguity and initiating structure with consideration as the partialled variable (hypothesis
One). Hypotheses two and three predict specific two-way interactions,
while the test of hypothesis four involves a three-way interaction. Anal-

ysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test these three hypotheses,

thereby yielding information about main effects at the same time, although
no specific hypotheses about main effects were formulated.

To construct the ANOVA design, the total sample was divided into

subgroups by dichotomizing it at the median of initiating structure, consideration, and role ambiguity, and forming the eight possible combinations

of low and high scores on each of the three variables to make a 2 x 2 x 2

design. One of the eight cells, in the complete design would consist, for
example, of subjects who scored below the median on all three variables
simultaneously, e.g., low initiating structure, low consideration, and low
role ambiguity. While this procedure for constructing the ANOVA design
has some disadvantages (such as arbitrarily defining low and high subgroups on the independent variables, treating essentially continuous data
as categorical, thereby resulting in some loss of statistical power), it does
form subgroups so that effects of independent variables can be interpreted

unambiguously. This is especially important when independent variables

are intercorrelated, as they are in the present data. Additionally the interpretation of significant interaction effects is facilitated by examining the
relevant subgroup means, which neatly summarize all the required information. The dependent variable was subjects' ratings of their intrinsic
job satisfaction.

The means and intercorrelations of all variables in the study, based on

the total sample, are shown in Table 1. The independent variables are all
significantly intercorrelated, the initiating structure-consideration correlation being the highest (.58). This value is typical of those reported
in the literature (Schriesheim et al., 1976) and requires a data analysis
procedure that separates the unique effects from the common effects on

other variables.

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Valenzi and Dessler



Intercorrelations, Means, and Standard

Deviations for the Variables a



1. Structure 3.97 .76 263 .86 .58

2. Consideration 3.56 .78 247 .87



3. Role ambiguity 2.85 1.17 261 .76 -.61

4. Job satisfaction 4.74 1.62 231 .95

a Sample sizes for correlations ranged from 222 to 253. All correlations were significant
at p < .001. Structure, consideration, and role ambiguity were measured on five-point scales,
job satisfaction was measured on a seven-point scale.
b These are estimates of internal consistency reliability (Cronbach's coefficient alpha).

There is a significant negative correlation between role ambiguity and

satisfaction. Contrary to hypothesis one, the significant, negative, zeroorder correlation between initiating structure and role ambiguity is reduced from -.32 to a nonsignificant .07 when consideration is partialled
out of the relationship. In contrast, partialling initiating structure from the

consideration-role ambiguity relation reduces the correlation from -.46

to -.36 (which is still significant at the .001 level); this may suggest that
consideration is the more influential variable, at least in this sample.

Dichotomizing the total sample at the median on each independent

variable produced significant differences between the means of low and

high subgroups as shown by t-tests, indicating a meaningful separation into

low and high subgroups.
A 2 x 2 x 2 fixed effects ANOVA with job satisfaction as the dependent
variable was performed. Because categorization of subjects into the eight
cells of the design created unequal sample sizes, an unweighted means anal-

ysis was employed to maintain the orthogonality of the independent

variables. The ANOVA summary is shown in Table 2. For consideration
and role ambiguity, the main effects and two-way interaction were signifTABLE 2

Analysis of Variance for Job Satisfaction

with Structure, Consideration, and
Subordinate Role Ambiguity
Variables in Analysis df MS F p




Consideration 1 1,975.05 10.07 .002

Role ambiguity 1 7,886.23 40.24 .001

Structure X consideration 1 92.90 <1.00 N.S.

Structure X role ambiguity 1 92.93 <1.00 N.S.

Consideration X role ambiguity 1 805.36 4.10 .041

Structure X consideration X 1











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Job Satisfaction Means for the

Role Ambiguity x Consideration Interaction a

Consideration Role Ambiguity






(n = 40) (n = 67)
(n = 81) (n = 43)

a Cell sizes are shown in parentheses

icant (the latter is consistent with hypothesis two). The interaction effect
for initiating structure and role ambiguity was not significant, contrary to
hypothesis three. Additionally, the lack of a significant main effect for
initiating structure suggests that the significant positive correlation between satisfaction and initiating structure in Table 1 can be attributed to
its intercorrelation with consideration and role ambiguity. Finally, the
three-way interaction of consideration, initiating structure, and role
ambiguity (hypothesis four) was not significant.
Table 3 shows the cell means for the significant consideration, role
ambiguity interaction (hypothesis two). In this sample, the two-way interaction of consideration and role ambiguity is ordinal, i.e., the profiles do
not intersect. High consideration subordinates have higher satisfaction

means than low consideration subordinates in both high and low am-

biguity subgroups. However, the difference in mean satisfaction between

high and low consideration subordinates is significantly greater for the
high role ambiguity subgroup than for the low ambiguity subgroup (1.12
versus .29) as shown by the siginficant F value for their interaction mean

These findings supported hypothesis two and underscored the influence

role ambiguity has on the leader consideration-subordinate satisfaction relationship. As expected, it was found that (1) role ambiguity was significantly negatively related to subordinate satisfaction, and (2) leader consideration was significantly positively related to subordinate satisfaction
(when both role ambiguity and structure were controlled). Of more interest,
however, role ambiguity influenced the relationship between leader consideration and subordinate satisfaction. Specifically, mean subordinate satisfaction increased more in the high role ambiguity subgroup as consideration
varied from low to high.
Hypotheses one and three were not supported: initiating structure and
role ambiguity were not negatively related (when consideration was controlled) nor did role ambiguity influence the relationship between initiating
structure and subordinate satisfaction, as shown by the nonsignificant twoThis content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Jun 2016 07:52:41 UTC
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Valenzi and Dessler


way interaction. Even controlling for initiating structure, we found a significant inverse relationship between consideration and role ambiguity. This

was not entirely unexpected given the Beehr (1976) and Schriesheim et al.
(1976) findings discussed above, but it deserves further study. One explana-

tion is that situations are perceived as less ambiguous by employees whose

supervisors are more considerate and supportive-perhaps because considerate leadership behavior is associated with more satisfied employees.
Perhaps a halo effect, such as is commonly found in performance appraisal
ratings, may explain employee ratings of perceived role ambiguity.
There was no significant three-way interaction between leader initiating

structure, leader consideration, and subordinate role ambiguity on subordinate satisfaction. This is interpreted here to mean that role ambiguity
had no significant influence on the appropriateness of the match (as measured by the interaction) between leader structure and leader consideration.
One might have assumed that where role ambiguity was high, high structure

and high consideration, i.e., a match) would be more appropriate; this

assumption was not supported by the findings.

A second, related implication is that researchers testing the path goal

theory of leadership (who generally emphasize the role of initiating struc-

ture) should perhaps place an increased emphasis on the relationship be-

tween leader consideration and subordinate satisfaction for various levels of

role ambiguity. Initiating structure itself is a somewhat mercurial construct

(Schriesheim et al., 1976). Furthermore, the evidence from path goal theory
concerning the initiating structure-satisfaction relationship is inconsistent

(Schriesheim & Von Glinow, 1977) and is dependent on a multitude of

other situational variables. Therefore it may be as or more important (and
fruitful) to focus on the consideration-satisfaction relationship under various role ambiguity conditions.

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