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Instrumental Leadership:
IMD Faculty The Nuts and Bolts of Leadership
Robert Hooijberg both research and in educational programs.
Professor of Organizational This area is about answering questions such
Behavior as What are the implications of the vision?
Is it realistic? How can we make the
vision happen? What we call instrumental
Guest Contributor leadership deals with scanning the external
environment, identifying opportunities,
John Antonakis, choosing the right strategy, and then
Professor of Organizational
providing the needed information, tools and
Behavior, University of
Lausanne resources to get the job done. It is what
could be described as the non-sexy part of
leadership. In executive education, it is much
Research & There is a gap between what can be called more fun for both participants and professors
Development the soft side of leadership (transformational) to focus on developing an inspirational vision
and the side that is more focused on carrots and strategy rather than making the difficult
Nancy Lane and sticks (transactional). Although both are instrumental decisions.
Michelle Perrinjaquet important elements of effective leadership, Although this might sound obvious, we
leaders must also know the nuts and bolts frequently see leaders who do not think
of the context in which they are leading. through strategic decisions and/or do not act
Instrumental leadership fills that gap. in ways consistent with their organizations
Transformational leadership focuses vision and strategy, and that includes those
on setting a vision, being charismatic, who formulated that vision and strategy.
developing employees and inspiring them to Organizations often find themselves in the
achieve better individual and organizational following situations:
Ninety-one executives performance. This type of leadership has
gathered at IMD on 3-4 received considerable attention and currently Being led by charismatic leaders who are
June 2014 to learn about dominates the research and practice charming and communicate convincing
the importance of non- landscape. visions that are difficult to operationalize or
sexy or instrumental Transactional leadership focuses on are unrealistic.
leadership. Professors ensuring that employee efforts are aligned Implementing budgeting decisions that are
Hooijberg and Antonakis with those of the organization by using not aligned with the strategy.
shared their latest incentives and disincentives. Other areas Having unreasonable strategic goals or
research, followed by of leadership have focused on the traits of pursuing opportunities that are inconsistent
a negotiation exercise effective leaders. Within this work researchers with the vision.
demonstrating how difficult have studied the impact of such variables Failing to communicate strategic milestones
it is to apply the theory in as as height, emotional intelligence, task- throughout the organization that will help
real-world situations. and people-oriented behaviors, participative make the vision reality.
decision-making, mentoring, managing Misaligning various strategic decisions
teams, communication and many others. (e.g., HR decisions, reward systems) with
Because transformational leadership the strategy.
focuses on the big picture and on the Failing to make business units see how
Discovery Events are exclusively inspirational part of leadership, and their collective efforts contribute to the
available to members of IMDs transactional leadership concentrates on strategic vision.
Corporate Learning Network. To find out
enforcing obligations, there is a huge area of Commissioning consulting strategy reports
more, go to
leadership that remains underrepresented in that do nothing but collect dust.

2014 IMD International Institute for Management Development. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or
transmitted in any form or by any means without the permission of IMD.
Instrumental leadership requires knowing an organizations environment, identifying
which strategy will make the organization its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities
adapt to the external environment and and threats; and 2) strategy formulation
aligning that strategy with actions. Leaders and implementation developing
must remain attuned to what is happening programs and tactical policies to support
real-time, both inside and outside the the organizations vision and setting
organization, and not just blindly deliver specific organization-wide objectives and
and execute visions. Although these goals.
tasks are not as sexy as setting a vision and The second dimension is work
being charismatic or being a great mentor facilitation, which 1) helps followers
and motivator, instrumental leadership achieve their goals through clarification of
Research shows is essential in order for activities relating how to get there and provides the required
that while there to vision and strategy to have any real information and resources; and 2) monitors
is a significant meaning and to ensure that the company the performance outcome of followers and
relationship between stays in business. corrects errors in a constructive way.
transformational One key element that is given relatively Research shows that while there
leadership and short shrift is the role of domain-specific is a significant relationship between
effectiveness, the expertise. We would even argue that transformational leadership and
effect of instrumental simply using transformational leadership effectiveness, the effect of instrumental
leadership is nearly without such expertise is dangerous leadership is nearly three times as strong.
three times as strong. for organizations. Research on expert Given the attention paid to transformational
leadership shows that leaders who have leadership in research and management
significant industry experience are more development and the lack of attention paid
effective than those who do not. According to instrumental leadership, these results
to Professor Amanda Goodall, having give business leaders a much-needed
experts as managers predicts better wake-up call.
performance across different domains In their organizational culture research,
such as Formula One teams, basketball IMD Professors Denison and Hooijberg
teams and hospitals. Similarly, Professor examined how well companies translate
Antonakiss research clearly shows that their vision and strategy into action. Out
deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts of of a sample of over 1,000 companies,
the business you are leading makes a big they analyzed the 25% that scored
difference to organizational effectiveness highest on having a clear strategy for the
outcomes and matters more than both future, having a shared vision of what the
transformational and transactional organization will look like in the future, and
leadership. having a vision that creates excitement
and motivation for their employees. They
The nuts and bolts of then examined what percentage of the
instrumental leadership companies that are top in terms of vision
and strategy were also top (i.e., in the top
Instrumental leadership focuses on 25%) on the following variables:
the whats and hows of leadership
and the nitty-gritty details. It has two 1. Work is organized so that each person
main dimensions. The first is strategic can see the relationship between his or
leadership, which consists of 1) her job and the goals of the organization.
environmental monitoring understanding 2. Ignoring values will get you into trouble.

J ean-Marie Messier is a good example of a leader whose lack of domain specific knowledge proved disastrous. His
background was in privatization and then investment banking. From 1994 he led the diversification of a French water
and sewage utility company, Compagnie Gnrale des Eaux, transforming it into the diversified media giant Vivendi. He
was charming and charismatic. In 2001, well before smartphones had become firmly established (the iPhone was only
released in 2007), he articulated the powerful vision of selling services to mobile devices that could play music, videos,
and provide all sorts of services. However, this vision was too futuristic. Vivendi did not have the knowhow to see it
through. A mere six months later, Vivendis stock price had fallen 61% and Messier was ousted as CEO. His downfall
wiped about 100 billion from stockholder wealth even more than the Enron scandal. Messier had the vision, ambition
and the ability to make deals but lacked the expertise necessary to make his vision a reality.

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3. Working with someone from another some of the key struggles leaders face
part of this organization is like as they attempt to implement their vision.
working with someone from a different One particular struggle concerns the
organization. ability of the organization to act as one,
4. There is good alignment of goals across as the results below illustrate. It is easy to say that
levels. organizations should
5. We respond well to competitors Lessons learned from practice act as one and that
and other changes in the business the interests of the
environment. It is easy to say that organizations should organization should
6. Attempts to create change usually meet act as one and that the interests of the come before those of
with resistance. organization should come before those of individual business
7. People understand what needs to be individual business units or departments. units or departments.
done for us to succeed in the long run. Reality, however, is often quite different. To Reality, however, is
8. Short-term thinking often compromises demonstrate some of these conundrums often quite different.
our long-term vision. in practice, participants shared in an
experiential exercise. They were divided
Their results support the hypotheses on the into five different organizations, each
need for instrumental leadership. On the with three business units (BUs). The
positive side, they found that 73% of these organizations were assigned the overall
companies were also in the top quartile strategy to make as many cubes as
of people understanding what needs to possible to sell to customers. The BUs
be done to succeed (No. 7). The strategy had an inventory of materials with which
variables were also positively linked to line to build their cubes and specifications
of sight (No. 1, 65%) and aligning across about how the cubes should look. They
levels (No. 4, 65%). The lowest scores were told how to calculate their profits
were on ignoring values (No. 2, 40%); and were given a strict timetable outlining
working with others in the organization is meeting times with the organizations
like working with someone from a different other BUs to negotiate for supplies. During
organization (No. 3, 40%); and the ability to the time-pressured exercise, the groups
create change (No. 6, 45%) (see Table 1). experienced tense moments and pitfalls in

Table 1: The extent to which, and how, companies translate vision into actions

These results further stress the need for aligning the organizations overall strategy
instrumental leadership. That is, while it is to individual BU goals.
a good start to get everyone to understand Unlike many real life situations, the
the vision and strategy, it takes a lot more business units in all five organizations
work to translate that into action. As the ultimately collaborated to maximize their
points above highlight, we need to get organizations overall profit but, in most
people to understand how what they do cases, this outcome was not guaranteed.
contributes to the vision, that the values During organization-wide debriefs, the
spelled out really matter, and that there BUs shared what they had learned from
is alignment across levels and across their own behavior, how they perceived
different parts of the organization so that the other BUs, and the assumptions they
real change is created. These represent had made during the exercise.

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The knowingdoing gap Really making sure to break down
the strategy into meaningful work
The exercise showed that although we and involving people to develop their
know what should be done, we are often individual goals and how they plan to
unable to execute accordingly due to achieve them.
personal biases, special interests and Be clear on the dos and donts and
assumptions. In preparation for the event, measure how strategy is deployed.
Professor Hooijberg had sent a survey Then every employee can understand
asking how participants would react the why, what and how of strategy (i.e.
to a series of instrumental leadership how each employee contributes to
dilemmas and what failures they had making the strategy happen).
Although we spent
experienced during their careers. As Value tactics over strategies then
time learning about the
with the experiential exercise, the survey continuously learn from doing. This
pitfalls of silo-thinking in
responses demonstrated that participants requires recognizing and being ok with
organizations, I just fell
knew perfectly well how to manage the failure, which is ok once but not all the
into the trap.
dilemmas, as Table 2 illustrates. time.
Professor Hooijberg contrasted this with Transparency on path and goal, how
We jumped right into
the many failures to act in accordance with to get there. Sense of urgency of the
the exercise without
what participants know should be done. change.
deciding who would
do what, we just got
Dilemmas Solutions
lucky that we took up
Milking the traditional cash cow (currently 80% Aligning resources, both financial and human,
complementary roles. of revenues) to grow a new product from 5% to with the future direction of the organization
*** 80% of revenues.
It was easier to trust the Moving to a networked and collaborative Aligning incentive schemes and HR tools with
people in my group workplace while all processes and incentives the desired behaviors
reward individual goals.
strangers than people
in my organization Cutting overall organization costs 10% while Communicating seemingly contradictory
hiring a new COO. messages in ways that people accept
because I dont have
any preconceived ideas Demoting or firing a long-time friend who no Putting organizational interest before your
longer has the right skills for the new strategic personal relationships
of their reactions and direction
*** Table 2: Instrumental leadership dilemmas and participant solutions
Fact-based decisions are
Participants cited failures in such areas Conclusion
better than assumption-
as overlooking trends, misunderstanding
based behavior.
organizational constraints, not adapting The current focus on transformational
to threats and opportunities, failing to and transactional leadership must not
We assumed we had
implement a well-adapted strategy, outweigh the non-sexy role of instrumental
to maximize BU profit
defining a well-adapted strategy but not leadership. Managers should use all styles
but the instructions
working to reflect it in the organizations to make tough choices, have difficult
did not say that!
practices, not providing the necessary conversations, hold people accountable,
resources and/or clarifications so ensure intra-organizational alignment and
employees could reach their goals, and follow through on the delivery of the stated
not monitoring employees outcomes. vision. Leaders struggle to ensure their
Participants key recommendations for visions are aligned with their choices and
narrowing the knowingdoing gap were: to establish vision-consistent processes.
Communicate to create clarity, walk They often feel ill-prepared, under- or
the talk; set clear expectations; unsupported and face conflicting interests.
collaboration; own the corrective actions Yet, instrumental leadership is essential for
(people, resources, know the passive capturing the full value of transformational
resistors); reward achievements; and leadership and vision implementation.
act on the consequences. Developing instrumental leadership
Values either live and comply with requires rolling up your sleeves and
the values or leave and go somewhere making sure that the nuts and bolts are
else. You need to have the courage in place. Although this necessitates
and take the personal pain to make experience and dedication, the payoff in
this happen. terms of effective leadership is worth it.

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