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

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

2.4 The Canadian Landscape

Although many leadership traits (including sound judgement, integrity, and interpersonal skills) may be universal, cultural literacy and relevance may offer leaders more efficacy, because specific leadership styles and behavioural tendencies may resonate, and are more befitting, in certain environments and cultures (Chamorro-Premuzic & Sanger, 2016).

According to Statistics Canada, in 2015, 90.3% of the labour force was employed by small (1-99 employees), and medium (100-499 employees) sized businesses (Government ofCanada, 2016). In other words, Canada relies on the survival of smaller organizations to sustain a healthy economy. Since the Canadian private sector is different from other advanced and developed countries (for example the United States) in that it is comprised of mostly small to medium-sized enterprises and employs the lion share of the Canadian labour force.

In Canada, the workforce has also shifted in the past few decades due to technological advancements, population composition, continued globalization, and the new demands of skills today (Department of Finance Canada, 2014). As of 2015, this shift has resulted in the highest proportion recorded of seniors (age 65 or older) still working (Statistics Canada, 2017) since 1981. Also, for the first time in history, employers are confronted with managing five generations – Generation Z (under 18 years old), Generation Y/Millennials (18-33 years old), Generation X (34-50 years old), Baby Boomers (51-70 years old), and Greatest Generation (over 70 years old) – in the workplace (Staples, 2016). In other words, there is a greater age range and differences among employees working together.

To add to this age diversity, according to Statistics Canada (2011), the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) data showed that “Canada is a nation with an ethno cultural mosaic as indicated by its immigrant population, the ethno cultural backgrounds of its people, the visible minority population, linguistic characteristics and religious diversity” (p. 6). The Canadian workforce also includes a diversity of the following:


According to Statistics Canada (2011):

• “Between 2006 and 2011, around 1,162,900 foreign-born people immigrated to Canada. These recent immigrants made up 17.2% of the foreign-born population and 3.5% of the total population in Canada” (p. 4).

• “Three-quarters (74.5%) of the foreign-born population were able to conduct a conversation in more than one language” (p. 5).

• “Of the roughly 6.8 million immigrants in Canada, slightly over one-half (54.6%) could speak two languages and one fifth (19.9%) had knowledge of at least three languages” (p. 19).
The influx of new immigrants from different countries, brings employees from different cultural backgrounds, who can speak other languages, together in the workplace. The ability to speak multiple languages could also be an asset to many organizations.

Visible minority

In 2011, people who identified themselves as a member of the visible minority population on the NHS questionnaire represented about one out of every five people (19.1%) in Canada’s total population (vs. 16.2% of the total population in a 2006 Census). The proportion of immigrants who are visible minorities has increased in recent decades (Statistics Canada, 2011).


According to the 2011 NHS, just over two-thirds (67.3%) reported they were affiliated with a Christian religion. Consistent with the change in immigration patterns, an increasing number of immigrants are reporting religious affiliations other than Christian, including Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist. In 2011, 7.2% of Canada’s population, reported affiliation with one of these religions (vs. 4.9% recorded in the 2001 Census; Statistics Canada, 2011).

With the melting pot of diversity in the workplace environment, organizations can gain a competitive advantage or destroy the morale, if not managed properly. Thus, managing diversity successfully could lead to more committed, satisfied and better-performing employees, which potentially could result in better performance for the organization (Patrick & Kumar, 2012).

2.5 Effective Leadership

In recent years, organizational leadership has moved away from traditional authoritarian, autocratic management practices (which uses power to force employees to increase productivity) to more participative and collaborative styles that empower, motivate, and encourage employee engagement (Preiss & Molina-Ray, 2007; Stone & Patterson, 2005). This movement helped public and private sector organizations realize that more collaborative management practices provided a competitive advantage (Preiss & Molina-Ray, 2007).
Although leadership is often a personal journey, the impact on others can also be significant. Thus, there are many leadership development programs available. Stone, Weger & Rocco (2006) developed a program that helps participants unleash personal, team and organizational creativity. Upon completion of the program, the participants reported greater authenticity, connection, and engagement in work and life. This holistic approach in their leadership development program helped leaders become more effective (Stoneham, Weger & Rocco, 2006).

2.6 The Adlerian Approach

The Adlerian theory is a social model of human behaviour developed by Alfred Adler (1870-1937), who was interested in the dynamics of an individual’s environment and social interactions. Adler developed a theory that took a holistic view of the human psyche and saw individuals as “indivisible, meaning one cannot fully understand a human being without first understanding the person holistically, and whose thoughts, actions, and feelings have a purpose and give meaning to that individual’s life choices” (Aslinia, Rasheed & Simpson, 2011). Put another way, individuals are social beings and to fully understand them, we would need to understand the social contexts across all domains of their lives (Preiss & Molina-Ray, 2007; Davison & Gasiorowski, 2006).

Similarly, a leader’s effectiveness fundamentally depends upon the leader’s ability to solve the kinds of complex social and interpersonal problems that arise in organizations. Thus, understanding and monitoring the social dynamics within the problem domain is a key skill for leaders. The leader develops, formulates a plan that works within the context of the organization and then implements solutions that are applied in a distinctly social context. The leader not only depends on the efforts of others in implementing these proposed solutions in so doing also gains support, communicates a vision, guides subordinates, and motivates others (Mumford, 2000).

According to Preiss & Molina-Ray (2007), the Adlerian theory “provides an effective framework to improve managerial practices and enhance organizational leadership…Adlerian theory promotes principles of social interest, democracy, and encouragement. These principles may guide leaders in building collaborative, productive workforces through participative management, coaching, and employee engagement. Experiential training exercises that integrate Adlerian principles can help managers expand their interpersonal competencies and increase leadership effectiveness” (Preiss & Molina-Ray, 2007, p.10). Although Adlerian scholars have explored and supported the application of Adlerian concepts to the work environment, to date there is little research in the literature to support the applicability of this framework on leadership specifically (Preiss & Molina-Ray, 2007; Davison & Gasiorowski, 2006).

In examining the application of Adler’s framework on leadership in the literature, three key Adlerian concepts are of particular relevance: (1) social interest and embeddedness (2) purposive behaviour, and (3) encouragement.

2.6.1 Social Interest & Embeddedness

One of the most distinctive Adlerian concepts is the German word “Gemeinschaftsgefuhl” which generally refers to having social interest or community feeling (Ansbacher, 1991). Central to this concept is the sense of belonging to the community and “involves concern for the community and its welfare” (Ferguson, 1984, p. 5). According to Adler, each individual is born with or can learn to develop a willingness to cooperate with others for the common good and have concern for interests outside of their own personal interests.
Leaders who know how to use social interest to appeal to employees in an organization are more effective in achieving high productivity, organizational citizenship, and achievement of shared goals (Preiss & Molina-Ray, 2007). Individuals have the fundamental social motivation of wanting to belong and contribute to society. According to Ferguson (1984), “such a feeling involves a sense of sharing, of reciprocity, of recognizing that one’s membership in the group is important for the group’s welfare…Out of the feeling of belonging comes the goal of contribution” (p. 5).

Leaders can increase productivity by increasing employees’ sense of community in the workplace and motivate them into a shared desire for achieving organizational goals. Individuals who align their values, contribute and commit themselves toward the organization’s goals perceive this productive pursuit as an opportunity to apply themselves, build self-confidence, and express their individual potential (Preiss and Molina-Ray, 2007).

2.6.2 Purposive Behaviour

One of the main Adlerian principles is that “all human behavior is purposive and that one can understand the meaning of behavior only by understanding the individual’s goals” (Ferguson, 1984, p. 3). Adler’s goal orientation is important; goals are constructions made through cognitive consideration that represents choice and decision (Ferguson, 1984). In other words, all behaviour has a purpose, and once individuals recognize their goals, they strive toward these goals, and their behaviours move consistently in that direction.

2.6.3 Encouragement

Adler was one of the first psychologists to define and centralize encouragement in his model (Wong, 2015). Encouragement is a useful Adlerian construct for leaders and is an important quality in engaging others, especially when they lose social interest (Main & Boughner, 2011). Encouragement skills include reflective listening, humor, expressing faith in the individual, smiling, acceptance of the individual, focusing on the individual’s strengths, and validating their goals (Wong, 2015). Encouragement is a primary motivating factor in influencing others toward purposeful action. The Adlerian approach to encouragement is to inspire or help the individual build courage and confidence toward establishing goals, attitudes, and competencies needed to cope in their lives (Sweeney, 2009). It focuses on an individual’s internal locus of evaluation to put effort, commitment and dedication to the task rather than be motivated by external rewards. This approach recognizes the employee’s value and competence while emphasizing their strengths, also increases their self-confidence (Preiss & Molina-Ray, 2007). Therefore, the focus is on modifying the motivation rather than the behaviour.

One way leaders can foster organizational citizenship is through encouragement. Leaders can use encouragement to build employees into leaders who take accountability and responsibility for their decisions and behaviours, without putting blame on others (Dinkmeyer, 1991). According to the Preiss & Molina-Ray (2007), encouragement is an effective tool, because it “acknowledges an individual’s autonomy within the social context and is particularly powerful in developing the egalitarian foundation for a democratic, participative organizational culture” (p. 13).

The Adlerian constructs of social interest, purposive behaviour, and encouragement are relevant to effective leadership in organizations and provide an ideal framework for the promotion of a participative and productive workplace. As an employee’s leadership skills become visible and recognized as they progress into more prominent positions, the importance of their interpersonal competences surpass their technical and functional abilities (Preiss & Molina- Ray, 2007).

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About the Author

Joyce Lai

Joyce LaiJoyce Lai is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in clinical and organizational psychology at The Professional School of Psychology. She also holds a masters degree in clinical and counseling psychology from the Adler Graduate Professional School and completed the core Co-Active program from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI). Leveraging her corporate background and experience, Joyce supports executives and professionals in transition build greater confidence, navigate through their careers, develop stronger leadership and interpersonal skills within the workplace and social communities.

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