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Unpacking Organizational Alignment: The View from Theory and Practice

Organizations use a range of performance improvement interventions to enhance their business. Internal factors such as people and processes are continuously developed to optimize business performance. External operating factors such as the market environment, shared industry space, and globalization also impact the success and survival of organizations. Put together, the external and internal factors drive organizations to continuously change, adapt and improve. For example, the TQM movement in early1980s, and the more recent Lean improvement practices highlight process improvement methodologies that prescribed an internal and external focus on process, cost, customer and product quality.


The global interdependence of markets, consumers, and suppliers created a complex value chain for organizations that presented exciting opportunities for growth as well as presented complex challenges for survival in the face of competition. In fact, the long-term success and viability of organizations is uncertain as constant changes in the external and internal environment can affect their performance. Interventions that help managers understand and evaluate their decision- making as it relates to enhancing the alignment of internal and external organizational components can help not only in managing but also driving performance. Yet, we know little about how alignment is created or measured at multiple levels in the organization. In fact, elaboration on organizational alignment in the literature is not only limited, but also underexplored.


According to Tosti and Jackson (2000), alignment links key organizational components such as strategy, culture, processes, people, leadership and systems for the purpose of accomplishing common goals. The alignment of critical factors internal to the organization suggests opportunities for identifying potential partnerships and collaborative integration of different functions, processes, and products. Furthermore, alignment also recognizes the importance of an organization’s connection to the external environment involving suppliers, new markets, customer groups, and shareholders (Powell, 1992). At a global level, organizational alignment can be viewed as connecting an organization’s internal network of people, products and processes to the external environment such as industry, national and global consumer, and producer markets for the purpose of strengthening organizational performance (Kathuria, Joshi & Porth, 2007). We position organizational alignment as a critical factor for enhancing organizational performance as well as for achieving a position of competitive advantage through the integration of people and processes.


Alignment acknowledges existing complexities of internal and external networks of an organization’s processes, products, as well as people and emphasizes the potential need for creating stronger linkages that can further enhance, or serve the broader purposes and goals of the organization.  Alignment can also enhance cross-functional fit between departments and units in the organization, as well as the linkages between strategy-structure-culture (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967).


The employee-job, employee-organization fit also emphasizes alignment albeit, at a micro level. Thus, the importance of alignment as a focal construct in understanding assessing and improving the performance of organizations at multiple levels cannot be ignored. Despite the intuitive appeal of organizational alignment, a strong absence of empirical validation has prevented the examination of this construct as a central theme of interest in the management literature. The purpose of our work is to examine how organizational alignment is understood and defined in the literature, identify important perspectives of organizational alignment, as well as elaborate on the implications for practice.


Research Questions


This paper aims to develop an understanding of alignment as a focal construct in organizational theory and practice. The importance of alignment on performance and learning outcomes of the organization is a relatively new area of exploration that has implications for senior leaders, operations managers and human resource (HR) professionals. For instance, enhancing person- job, and person-organization fit in the organization can significantly enhance the role and performance of HR managers. The following questions guided our inquiry:


Research Question 1: How is alignment understood and defined in the literature? What are the important perspectives on alignment and how to do these perspectives shape our understanding of alignment?


Research Question 2: In what ways does the literature link alignment with learning and performance outcomes? What are the implications for senior leaders, operations managers and HR professionals?


 What is Organizational Alignment?


Likert (1961) introduced the notion of alignment as a “linking pin” connecting internal and external networks of people, products and processes for the purpose of strengthening organizational performance Early contributions in the literature emphasized the importance of strategic fit with external factors such as industry characteristics, environmental threats; and, internal factors such as organizational culture and structure (Ansoff, 1965; Andres, 1971). We highlight the importance of organizational alignment – or fit – between internal and external organizational factors as a common theme and distinctive focus in the management literature. For instance, management scholars have extended the notion of alignment to include organizational systems, processes and managerial decision-making (Lorange & Vancil, 1977,

Kaplan, 2005, Kathuria, Joshi & Porth, 2007). Powell (1992) connected organizational alignment and competitive advantage to establish the alignment-firm performance connection. More recent contributions (e.g. Porter, 1996) conceptualized alignment as an array of interlocked activities, where key resources and capabilities are deployed according to organizational requirements.


Defining Organizational Alignment


Prior literature defines alignment as a valuable and scarce resource that has significant consequences to organizational performance (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967; Powell, 1992). For example, Powell (1992) posits alignment as a dynamic capability that brings attention to both the internal and external organizational factors (Burn, 1996). The central premise of prior conceptualizations suggests that alignment-performance linkage is not only important but can also be adopted as a deliberate approach for enhancing the mission and vision of the organization. These conceptualizations explicitly suggest alignment as an outcome of managerial decision-making and skill rather than luck (Powell, 1992); as a “higher order of integrative capacity” (Lawrence & Lorsch, p.245), that is a common feature of high-performing organizations. Other scholars have described alignment as an adaptive dynamic capability (Pascale, 1999; Miller, 1996), an integrative capacity that is a “source of sustainable competitive advantage” (Powell, 1992, p.121) to help organizations achieve their strategic potential (Hamel & Prahlad, 1994).


Avison, Jones, Powell, Wilson (2004) identified six popular descriptions of alignment which describe alignment as fit (Porter, 1996), integration (Weill & Broadbent, 1998), bridge (Ciborra, 1997), harmony (Luftman et al., 1996), fusion (Smaczny, 2001) and linkage (Henderson & Venkatraman, 1989). Alignment can be described as “heading in the same direction” (Weiser, 2000, p.90). These explanations emphasize linkages within the organization, and describe how different parts work towards the achievement of shared organizational goals. Drawing from the more recent work of Alagaraja & Shuck (2015), alignment is defined as an adaptive, dynamic resource capability achieved by developing a shared understanding of organizational goals and requirements by employees (p.5). This definition encompasses previous conceptualizations of alignment at the macro level as well as emphasizes micro level approaches for identifying and evaluating managerial behavior and decisions that can influence alignment in different levels such as individual, team, department as well as the whole organization.


Review of Alignment Literature


Numerous scholars have contributed to the understanding of organizational alignment resulting in the development of key perspectives and types. In the sections below, we provide an overview of these contributions by identifying common themes in the conceptualizations of alignment. Overall, we identified three major perspectives and five types of alignment that inform theory and research. We contend that the three major perspectives of alignment theorize and validate the five different types.


Perspectives of Alignment


Several streams of literature explored alignment from three dominant perspectives that rest on a different set of agreements about how organizations learn and perform. The three perspectives – process, relational and strategic identify distinctive arrangements for translating organizational priorities into goals, objectives and activities. These major perspectives suggest notions of alignment as emergent and performative resulting from the many interactions involving the organization’s external and internal environment, as well as internal linkages that occur between strategy, structure, culture and other organizational processes. The following sections briefly overview each major perspective, starting with the process perspective.


Process Perspective


Viewed broadly, the process perspective describes alignment as a continuous and dynamic process (Burns, 1996; Tallon & Kraemer, 1999). Alignment occurs when the organization ensures that departments can work together smoothly (Kanter, 1994). This perspective emphasizes understanding of functional processes, and generating systematic agreement towards optimization and continuous improvement of organizational processes and underscores the conceptualization of organizations’ primarily as a series of processes and processual arrangements. Thus, alignment of macro and micro level processes, focusing on individual, functional, cross-functional and cross-organizational processes through shared engagement and commitment of employees, customers and stakeholder groups emphasize the process perspective. Other descriptions of process alignment suggest, “gaining a collaborative view” through an iterative process in which businesses achieve goals (Gulledge & Sommer, 2002, p. 984). Organizations that take time to align their business processes within and between departments, and across their supply chain (customers, suppliers and regulators) are more likely to enhance overall performance. We contend that attention to the process perspective of alignment allows us to theorize and examine how the design and structure of business processes can improve organizational performance. The process perspective also suggests the importance of optimizing resources, skills, abilities and knowledge for the overall benefit of the organization. As Weiser (2000) suggested, process alignment enhances the ability of different functions or departments to work towards a common goal, such that the organization is not only “heading in the same direction” (p.90) but is also able to reduce internal inefficiencies. This perspective underscores the importance of examining the extent to which there is congruence between different processes involving tasks, responsibilities, goals and objectives in the organization. Yet, in conceiving of alignment as the enhancement of linkages and connections between organizations processes, this perspective under theorizes the value of describing the organization in terms of demonstrating the relational value of strategy, culture, and other elements of the organization that impact performance.


Relational Perspectives


Some scholars attempted to address the lack of demonstrated value around strategy and culture by taking a more relational approach. This perspective describes alignment as the extent to which the organization is able to experience congruence between different components of the organization’s internal and or external environment. For example, several scholars highlight the relational perspective of alignment through the examination of the organization’s internal environment. The performance of different components within the organization are motivated by the alignment of strategy and structure (Mintzberg, 1979); organizational size and strategic planning (Mintzberg, 1973); and strategy –culture linkages (Mintzberg, 1989, 1991). Other scholars in this perspective have suggested the organizational “fit” with the external environment resulting from the interactions and general response of the organization to the environment (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967; Thompson, 1967, Miles & Snow, 1978). As one example, managers must consider the fit of organizational design to the external environment (Burns & Stalker, 1961, Khandwalla, 1973). This strand of organizational alignment emphasizes the role of organizational flexibility, adaptation and ability to respond well to changes in both the external and internal environment. Organizational priorities and arrangements are viewed as contingent upon the conditions of the environment, and thus, alignment occurs through ongoing adaptations of the organization. But, how these alignments might unfold given that senior executives play an important part in influencing if and whether organizations adopt a particular strategy, strategic orientation or perspective has not been a concerted focus of the relational perspective. This is discussed next.


Strategic Perspective


Within the strategic perspective, scholars have positioned strategy as likely to influence the ways in which organizations could achieve alignment. For example, Snow and Miles (1983) argued the importance of linking strategic planning and overall strategy to the specific configurations of technology, structure and processes in the organization. In this view, the extents to which processes and organizational components are consistent with the selected strategy determine the performance of the organization. The resultant outcome of this perspective suggests that organizations can create unique strategic alignments for achieving a position of competitive advantage.


The strategic alignment perspective has found empirical support in the literature. For example, several scholars found strategic alignment as positively related to organizational performance. For example, Avison, Jones, Powell, Wilson (2004) validated a strategic alignment model examining the integration of information technology (IT) strategy to business performance. Bergeron, Raymond, Rivard (2003) described ideal patterns of strategic alignment and business performance. Burn & Szeto (1999) compared critical success factors for achieving strategic alignment. Further, Campbell, Kay, Avison (2004) used causal model building to analyze IT and business alignment. Through performance measurement systems, organizations leverage alignment of strategy and organizational learning to achieve competitive advantage.


  Within the strategic perspective, another strand is a differing approach where some scholars examine the extent of misalignment between the strategies of a function or department and the organization. For instance, studies examined the misalignment of IT strategy and business strategy, describing the lack of alignment as the emergent from “continuous adaptation and change” (Henderson & Venkatraman 1993, p.5). Saberwal, Hirschheim and Goles (2001) expanded on this strand to emphasize the importance of IT alignment on organizational strategy and structure. Tallon, Kraemer and Gurbaxani (2001) argued that alignment of IT and business strategies were a critical factor for enhancing the performance of the IT department as well as the overall organization. Other studies renewed the focus on misalignment inquiring into issues arising from the implementation of organizational and functional strategies (Grover, Jeong, Kettinger & Teng, 1995).


Recent Conceptualizations of Alignment


The aforementioned perspectives have highlighted the different ways alignment can manifest from different sources such as processes, internal and external environments, as well as organizational strategies. Contemporary conceptualizations have argued for a more dynamic understanding, which suggests a need to simultaneously focus on multiples sources of alignment– not just one perspective. For example, strategic perspectives of alignment have begun to emphasize the need for addressing customer needs and other requirements of the external environment (Hall, 2002). Moreover, relational perspectives have emphasized symmetry in organizational design and structure that enables process optimization through cross-functional behavior (Weiser, 2000). As Schneider, Godfrey, Hayes, Hyang, Lim, Nishii, Raver, Ziegert (2003) explain, internal organizational systems and their environments must achieve “fit, congruence, consistency, alignment, and matching” of goals and objectives at multiple levels in the organization. (p.124). They developed a star alignment model examining the reciprocity of strategy and culture through the alignment of five organizational components – team work, people, goals and rewards, training and development, and service. More complex perspectives of alignment advance the recognition of conflicting patterns of alignment and misalignment that involve business performance, strategy, structure, human resource (HR) and IT systems (Alagaraja, 2013; Bergeron, Raymond &Rivard, 2003).


These emerging perspectives suggest the need for understanding what perspectives of alignment are of value, why they are valued, and how managers and business leaders can recognize, facilitate or manage when and where alignment or misalignment occur in the organization. The alignment ontology offers a potentially promising approach for understanding the value of achieving shared vision, mission, values, goals, objectives and direction for the organization. However, these contributions do not explicitly address specific types of alignment as they relate to different levels of the organization (individual, departmental, supply chain etc.) that can be pursued by managers and leaders for improving organizational performance. By investigating the specific types of alignment we hope to offer new distinctions to the practice of alignment and its relevance to real world contexts. To do so, we take a human resource (HR) infused practice perspective to examine the different types of alignment and their implications for leaders and managers in organizations.


 Types of Alignment and Relevance to Human Resources


As we have noted, the organizational alignment literatures distinguish between several types of alignment. Horizontal alignment, for example, involves the “co-ordination of efforts across the organization” (Kathuria, Joshi & Porth, 2007; p.505). This type of alignment emphasizes roles, responsibilities among different work groups, departments and teams and closely links different elements of structure with business processes in the organization. As such, this type of alignment also addresses the integration of social and culture processes, which in theory have greater impact on alignment and organizational performance (Mezias, 1990; Powell, 1991). In the human resource (HR) literature, this type of alignment highlights the importance of achieving internal coherence and consistency of human resource policies towards improving employee performance (Gratton & Truss, 2003).


Vertical alignment emphasizes alignment within each function and focuses on how different departments orient their functional goals to that of the organization or business unit. Gratton and Truss (2003) proposed the linking of HR strategy to business strategy as an example of vertical alignment and suggests “a much more fluid dynamic that allows for variation and flexibility” (p.75). A high degree of vertical alignment helps in developing internally coherent HR policies that “consistently relate to one another” (p.75).


As described by Venkatraman, Henderson and Oldach (1993), management practices act as “alignment mechanisms” that deal “with translating strategic choices . . . into administrative practices and operational decision-making” (p. 144). Semler (1997) identified strategy, structure, culture, leadership and HRD as important components for building alignment. According to him, three additional types of alignment were identified: structural alignment, cultural alignment, and environment alignment.


Structural alignment emphasizes the systematic design of structure to ensure the achievement of strategic goals (Swanson, 1994; Rummler & Brache, 1990). Of particular relevance to HRD professionals is the need for designing motivational structure of rewards and incentives that are in alignment with organizations’ strategic and tactical goals. Structural alignment differs from vertical and horizontal alignment in its narrow focus on design and structure of organizational roles, responsibilities. On the other hand, horizontal and vertical alignments also consider social and cultural norms and values.


Cultural alignment emphasizes alignment of planned tactical behaviors with cultural behavioral norms. This type of alignment is a strong predictor of actual individual performance. Finally, environmental alignment underscores the strategic fit of the organization (vision, goals and tactics) and external environment. This type of alignment refers to the removal of barriers, increase in cooperation and performance by HR departments for enhancing employee performance. Within the literature, structural alignment emphasizes organizational design and rewards structure, cultural alignment suggest the importance of attending to existing cultural norms, and environmental alignment highlights cooperation and removal of performance barriers between different departments.




Our review of the organizational alignment literature revealed several challenges, from conceptual or theoretical perspective as well as an applied perspective. We explore these challenges in an attempt to bring clarity to this conceptual domain of interest as well as to call for further research in this important area.


First, there is a significant lack of agreement on a discrete definition of alignment. Our review of select alignment literature revealed several descriptions (see, e.g. Avison, Jones, Powell & Wilson, 2004), which we categorized thematically into various types and perspectives. However, a single, unified understanding of alignment was absent. This is perhaps due to the contextual nature of organizational alignment construct. We contend that organizational alignment is embedded in and emergent from the context and unique operating environment with a multitude of constraints and contextual characteristics (e.g. specific industry, governmental regulation, employee culture, organizational mission, etc.). This results in unique ways in which organizational alignment can occur. This lack of agreement on a definition leads to a conceptual overlap between the various ways of understanding organizational alignment. Furthermore, it is difficult to measure to what extent alignments and misalignments surface, intensify or dissolve so that these manifestations can be managed effectively for the organization from a practical standpoint.


We compare the definitions of organizational alignment by juxtaposing the various perspectives of alignment with different types of alignment we identified. Table 1 identifies conceptual overlap that exists between the various perspectives and types of alignment. From the literature we examined, we thematically identified which perspective and type of organizational alignment that was most closely described by the author.  For example, Gulledge and Sommer’s (2002) work seemed to address issues of process alignment with an emphasis on a vertical alignment type. While this list is not meant to be exhaustive, it points to the overlapping definitions of organizational alignment that exist and compete for managerial and organizational attention.


Table 1


Comparison of Organizational Alignment (OA) Perspectives and Types


Alignment Type










Gulledge &

Kanter, 1994

Weiser, 2000

Mezias, 1990






Powell, 1991











Burns &






Stalker, 1961

1989, 1991

&Lorsch, 1967






















Miles & Snow,










Snow &


Hall, 2002




Miles, 1983















, Henderson


Hayes, Hyang,


& Oldach,


Lim, Nishii,



Raver, Ziegert











Rummler &



Brache, 1990





Building on this difficulty of reconciling on a common definition or definitions of alignment, we point to an absence of a consistent and reliable way of measuring organizational alignment within an organization. Although measurement is present in the literature (see, e.g. Avison, Jones, Powell, & Wilson, 2004), it is difficult to generalize findings and compare across contexts. This poses a problem of an almost cyclical nature. Because it is difficult to measure organizational alignment empirically, it is difficult to arrive at consensus on definitional attributes. While these challenges are not insurmountable, they must nevertheless be taken into account when examining the organizational alignment construct. Of particular note, both scholars and practitioners should be aware of the specific context from which alignment is being studied or practiced. Again, while the measurement of organizational alignment may be difficult, it is not an unfruitful endeavor, and should be considered in the context of the organizations’ environment.


Theoretical Implications


Perhaps most notably, our review of the alignment literature revealed a lack of agreement on one particular definition of the construct posing serious problems for advancing theoretical propositions of alignment. As we have noted, this lack of definition stems from the idea that alignment in any given organization will be uniquely and singularly constructed. We however come to some terms about what organizational alignment is. We have highlighted several streams of organizational alignments literature that rests disparately across academic disciplines.


As such, we maintain there is a unique opportunity for theoretcial advancement around the construct of organizational alignment.  While the construct of organizational alignment enjoys a robust history, the evolution and maturation the the theoretcial frame is only beginning application in organizational contexts. For example, while we name and highlight several perspectives and types, we actually know very little about the inner workings, influence, or interactions of the phenomonon in practice.


For example, theoretcially, we wonder how varying perspectives and types might look like together. If we use the contextual and specific definitonal positioning offered by each set of authors, we can then juxtapose their position graphically. See Figure 1.



Figure 1. Theoretcial Juxtapostion of Organizational Alignment Perspectives and Types


Grounded in the literature and definitions reviewed, we propose that horizontal and vertical alignment make up those systems and processes that define the context of the organization while structural and cultural alignment define the organizational bounds of alignment. Moreover, environmental alignment works as a catalyst for the creation of alignment – either in the process of removing barriers or spurring activity that facilitates the performance of alignment in an organization. The nuanced model highlighted in Figure 1 contextualizes the theoretical overlap, convergence, and utility of unique perspectives under one frame of reference.


Practical Implications


From a practical perspective, alignment has received little attention. Again, this may be due to the difficulty in defining and measuring organizational alignment as a construct.  Yet, organizational alignment indeed can have important consequences for organizations.  As noted in the literature, organizations that understand and implement good alignment practices can see increased productivity and performance (Bergeron, Raymond, & Rivard, 2004).  Therefore, it is imperative for managers and leaders to understand organizational alignment and their role in driving alignment.  Ultimately, it is these individuals that facilitate alignment in the organization through various channels of implementation. According to Kathuria, Joshi and Porth (2007), alignment “requires a shared understanding of organizational goals and objectives by managers at various levels and within various units of the organizational hierarchy” (p. 504).  In a sense, implementing an alignment plan involves not only the alignment of processes, structures, and systems, but also an ideological alignment among employees and leaders.  Without a “shared understanding” of alignment within the organization, it is difficult to fully ensure that relevant and important organizational elements are truly aligned.


Additionally, different subsets of employees may find it beneficial to focus on different aspects of organizational alignment.  We have outlined suggested foci for three different functional areas of organizational managers/leaders (executive leadership, operations, and human resources) in Table 2.  To be sure, this is not an exhaustive list, but may nevertheless be useful for determining where certain emphases can be placed for maximal impact.  Operational employees (those carrying out the “central” aspect of a given business) could have more influence over vertical and horizontal process alignment, for example, because of the proximity of these individuals to the work being carried out.  Similarly, human resource professionals might have notable influence in alignment that pertains to issues of organizational culture because of their roles within the organization and their job tasks.  Lastly, executive leadership should be particularly interested in the strategic execution of alignment, especially when this pertains to the interaction of the internal and external operating environment.


 Table 2


Suggested Foci for Organizational Leaders



Note: Red = executive leadership, blue = operations, green = human resources




Organizational alignment is a phenomenon shown to contribute to both organizational performance as well as employee and team performance.  Alignment can be used to improve internal processes and reduce inefficiencies as well as link the organization more closely to its external operating environment (regulators, suppliers, and customers, e.g.).  However, our examination of the organizational alignment literature has revealed that there is considerable difficulty in arriving at a single definition of alignment that remains useful across contexts as well as specific and bounded.  This appears to be due to the unique organizational contexts within which alignment is enacted.  This difficulty in defining alignment naturally leads to difficulty in measuring alignment and making useful conclusions based on empiricism. Nevertheless, the process of planning for and implementing alignment plans is beneficial to employee and organizational success.




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Meera Alagaraja, Kevin Rose, Brad Shuck, Matt Bergman

Current Issue
The Relationship between Leadership Styles and Job Satisfaction: A Case Study of Multicultural Educational Organizations in United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates is a recently developed country with and its education system has achieved a significant growth in last two decades. In last few years the number of schools, colleges and universities has increased rapidly showing massive development in education system.


Like almost all other organizations, educational organization owes its existence to four universally recognized elements-Man, Money, Method and Material. Out of these, the single most important element is man or educational leader, who operates the other three elements in such a way that the educational organization could achieve its goal. Educational leadership is a new concept that is receiving a lot of attention as evidenced by schools, colleges, universities, nongovernment organizations as well as government education departments investing huge resources in leadership development programs. In educational organization, a strong educational leader or principal is a necessity because they play a potential role in effectiveness of a school. Result of many research (Fowler, 1991; Hall, 1994) have indicated that school effectiveness is closely related to the job satisfaction of teachers as Bogler (2001) pointed out that the success of the educational system and organization are highly dependent on the way teachers feel about their work and how satisfied they are with their job. Thus effective leadership and teacher’s job satisfaction are two factors that are regarded as fundamentals for educational organizations success. Many researchers (Loke & Crawford, 2001; Red & Yarmohammadian, 2006) in their studies found that leadership style has significant impact on the job satisfaction of employees.


According to Lipham (1981) principal’s leadership styles influence teacher’s job satisfaction which was further supported by Ingram (1997) who found that principals who were perceived to exhibit high transformational behavior had greater positive effects on teacher’s motivation to exert extra effort than principals who were perceived to exhibit high transactional leadership. Transformational leaders improve the cognitive or affective state of followers and thus increase their job satisfaction (Martin & Epitropaki, 2001) and high job satisfaction enhances employee’s psychological and physical well being and positively affects their performance. Meson (1998) in his research demonstrated that perceived leadership style predicted job satisfaction of teachers in educational settings. Researcher Kerry Webb (2003) found transformational leadership of administrators as significant predictors of lecturer’s job satisfaction in his research in educational setting in USA. Chen et al (2004) in their studies of higher education in Taiwan also found that transformational leadership was significant predictor of lecturers’ job satisfaction in university and an organization that fosters high employee’s job satisfaction is more capable of retaining and attracting employees with the skills it needs (Red & Yarmohammadian, 2006).


Principal leadership style is an essential element in the success of a school and according to Goleman (1996) the principal’s ability to understand, identify and empathize with educator’s emotions and then react appropriately are integral factors which could help foster a feeling of job satisfaction among teachers. Thus effective leadership and teacher’s job satisfaction are two factors that are regarded as fundamentals for educational organizations success.


This study aimed at exploring the relationship between perceived leadership style of principals and the job satisfaction of teachers working multicultural educational organizations in UAE.


Education system in UAE:


The education system of UAE is relatively new. According to Ministry of Education, systematic modern education started in UAE with Al Qassemia School in Sharjah in 1953/54, but a formal education system was launched in 1971 with the establishment of Federal Ministry of Education and Youth which was in charge of all education related issues. In 1975, the rate of adult literacy was 54.2 % among men and 30.3 % among women and in 1998 the male literacy rate increased to 73.4% and female literacy rate to 77.1%. Public education is free for citizens up to university level in UAE and government provide scholarships to a large number of students to go abroad for higher studies.


According to Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), there are 296 public schools and 180 private schools offering range of curriculum including International Baccalaureate (IB), UAE Ministry of Education, British, American, French, Indian, Filipino etc.


From data provided by Knowledge & Human Development Authority (KHDA), Government of Dubai, 2012-2013, there are 153 private schools in Dubai in which 225,099 students of 177 nationalities are studying in different curriculum schools. There are 14,333 teachers in private schools in which 80% are female and 20% are male. In UAE the public schools use Arabic as the medium of instruction whereas the medium of instruction in private schools is English.


According to Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR), there are 73 institution of higher education in UAE, which are given license by commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) and there are 561 accredited programs running in these institutions of higher studies.


According to KHDA report (2010) there are 52 institutions in Dubai that offer higher education programs. Generally all types of training providers are situated in Dubai Knowledge Village and all higher education providers are present in Dubai International Academic City.


The majority of teaching faculties working in private educational organization are of foreign nationals like Americans, British, Indians, Australians, French, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, and Filipino etc and hence the working environment is multicultural, as the faculties are of different nationalities and of different culture. Since employees come here to work on temporary basis, based on their visa and work permit, hence their job satisfaction is very important for the organizations otherwise these teachers can move to another country for more comfort, facilities and satisfaction. High level of employees’ job satisfaction has been highly associated with more work performance and less employee turnover and absenteeism. All educational organizations are focused to maintain a highly qualified and productive workforce so that standard of teaching can be of international level. Job satisfaction, as suggested by Locke and Crawford (1999) is the most determining factor that encourages the highest level of organizational commitment. There is clear evidence that employees with high level of job satisfaction are less likely to leave the organization and dissatisfied workers are more likely to resign (Hanson & Miller, 2002). This study is designed to determine if there is a significant relationship between the perceived leadership styles of principals and job satisfaction of teachers working in multicultural educational organizations in U.A.E.


Transformational and Transactional Leadership Styles


Koontz and Weihrich (2004) have defined leadership as the art or process of influencing people so that they will strive willingly and enthusiastically towards the achievement of group goals. Leadership is the ability to persuade others to seek defined objectives enthusiastically. In educational organization, a strong educational leader or principal is a necessity because they play a potential role in effectiveness of a school.


The transformational leaders interact with followers in such a way as to stimulate their thinking, to inspire their performance and to perform beyond expectations. “Transformational leadership is a process of influencing in which leaders change their associates awareness of what is important, and move them to see themselves and the opportunities and challenges of their environment in a new way” (Avolio & Bass, 2004). According to Bass (1997), transformational leaders show following characteristics:


1. Idealized Influence Attributed: The leader has the followers respect, faith and trust. Followers emulate his behavior, assume his values and are committed to achieving his vision and making sacrifices in this regard.


2. Idealized Influence Behavior: The leader shared a vision and a sense of mission with the followers. Radicals, innovative solutions to critical problems are proposed for handling follower’s problems.


3. Inspirational Motivation: The leader increases the optimism and enthusiasm of followers.


4. Intellectual Stimulation: They promote intelligence, rationality, and careful problem solving.


5. Individualized Consideration: They give personal attention, treat each employee individually, coach, advice and mentor the followers.


Transactional leaders focus their energies on task completion and compliance and rely on organizational rewards and punishments to influence employee performance, with reward being contingent on the followers for carrying out the roles and assignments as defined by the leader (Bass & Avolio, 2004). According to Bass, transactional leaders show following characteristics:


1. Contingent Reward: In this style of leadership, the leader provides appropriate rewards when followers meet agreed upon objectives.


2. Active Management by Exception: Leader actively watches for deviations from rules and standards and then takes corrective actions.


3. Passive Management by Exception: Passive management of exception implies waiting passively for deviance, mistakes and errors to occur and then taking corrective action.


4. Laissez-Faire Leadership: It is the avoidance of leadership and is the most ineffective form of leadership style. The leader abdicates responsibilities, avoids making decisions.


Job Satisfaction


According to Rocca and Kostanski (2001), job satisfaction is the degree to which people like their jobs. It is a general attitude towards the job, the difference between the amount of rewards employee receive and the amount they believe they should receive. It was found that supervisor’s display of nonverbal immediacy, mutual respect, trust, and consideration of staff member’s feelings is highly related to the job satisfaction of the staff (Richmond & McCroskey, 2000; Medlock, 2006). According to Wright and Terrian (1987) employee’s job satisfaction with work is a multifaceted construct which include following factors-


Intrinsic factors: Those factors which occur at the time of performance of the work, so there is direct satisfaction to perform the work like classroom activities, daily interactions with students, student’s characteristics and perceptions of teacher control over the classroom environment.


Extrinsic factors: Those factors which occur after work or away from work, providing no direct satisfaction at the time the work is performed like retirement plans, health insurance and vacations, Co-workers interpersonal relationship, availability of resources, perceived support from administrators, supervision, role clarity, organization structure, salary, policy etc.


In case of UAE, annual teacher turnover is significant as approximately 16 % of the teachers that were teaching in a private school last year were not teaching at the school the following year.


23.4% of all teachers were new to their school in 2012-13 and half of these new teachers were recruited from other countries. Many studies (Locke and Crawford, 1999) have shown that dissatisfaction in job causes absenteeism, high turnover, lesser productivity causing low standard of teaching in educational organizations. UAE where local literacy percentage is low, they drastically need high quality of teaching faculties so that their younger generation is better equipped with knowledge and be able to lead their country. The study of perceived leadership styles of principals and how they relate to the job satisfaction of these teachers working in these multicultural educational organizations in UAE can provide principals valuable information about how teaching faculties perceive their leadership behavior and what are the faculties’ expectations about the job and working environment. Based on this research, principals may be able to diagnose the needs of their school or college environment and adjust their leadership style to meet those needs.


This study was directed to investigate and to get a better understanding of the relationship between perceived leadership styles of principals and job satisfaction of teachers working in multicultural educational context of UAE.  If there is a correlation between the particular perceived leadership styles of principals and job satisfaction of these teachers, then educational organizations can use this quantitative data to enhance job satisfaction among teachers using that particular leadership style. This research will also help educational policy makers and administrators to prepare leaders and provide particular leadership style training to the principals to become more effective leaders.


This study is guided by the following research questions:


1. To what extent does the perceived transformational leadership style of principals relate to the job satisfaction level of the teaching faculties?


2. To what extent does the perceived transactional leadership style of principals relate to the job satisfaction level of educators in working in UAE?


3. What is the predictive relationship of perceived leadership styles (transformational and transactional) of principals on the job satisfaction of teaching faculties working in multicultural educational organizations in UAE?






The nature of this study is quantitative and a non experimental, descriptive research design is used to investigate the relationship between the perceived leadership styles of principals and job satisfaction of the teaching faculties working in educational organizations in UAE.




This study was carried out in fifteen private schools, educational institutes and universities situated in different emirates-Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah of UAE. A total of 300 expatriate teachers and lecturer took part in this survey. The sample consisted of 11.7 % male teachers and 88.3 % female teachers. As for as academic qualification was concerned, majority of teachers were postgraduate (46.3%), followed by graduates (45.3%). Only 5.3 % teaching faculties had doctorate degree and 3% teachers had senior secondary or A-level of education.




Three instruments were used to assess leadership styles of principals and job satisfaction of teachers and their personal information.


Personal Information


Respondents were requested to give information about their gender, age, academic qualification, professional qualification, years of teaching experience and grade in which they were teaching, for which a separate demographic questionnaire by researcher was provided.


Leadership Styles


The independent variable- perceived transformational and transactional leadership styles of principals were measured by using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ 5X short form) developed by Bruce Avolio and Bernard Bass (2004). It consisted of 45 items with responses ranging from not at all (0) to always (4) on a five point scale. Since Bass and Avolio (1995) ‘Nine Factor Model’ distinguished five subscales for transformational leadership and four subscales for the transactional leadership style so only thirty six items were used for the assessment. In the present study the reliability coefficients were as follow- Idealized Influence Behavior-0.64, Idealized Influence Attributed-0.66, Inspirational motivation-0.71, Intellectual Stimulation-0.66, Individualized Consideration-0.62, Contingent Reward-0.65, Active management by exception-0.57, Passive management by exception-0.58 and Laissez faire-0.61.


Job Satisfaction


Job satisfaction of teaching faculties working in different educational organizations in UAE was evaluated by using Mohrman-Cooke-Mohrman Job Satisfaction Scale (MCMJSS) by Mohrman, Cooke, Mohrman & Zaltman, 1977. It was designed to measure self-perception of job satisfaction using 8-items scale which is divided into two sections. Each section contains four questions and measures self perceived intrinsic, extrinsic and overall satisfaction. The instrument is self-administered and uses a six-point Likert-type scale. Reliability coefficient for the intrinsic job satisfaction scale was .89 and reliability coefficient for the extrinsic job satisfaction scale was .88, which were almost identical in magnitude to those reported for educator respondents by Mohrman et al (1977).




The research instruments were administered on teachers and lecturers using the drop-off and pick-up method. A total of 397 questionnaires were distributed in all schools, colleges and institutes out of which, only 307 questionnaires were returned with the return rate of 77% but only 300 questionnaires were used for the analysis because seven questionnaires were incomplete.


Data analysis


The data collected were analyzed by using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS). Descriptive statistics, Pearson correlational analysis and Multiple regression analysis procedure was administered to determine the relationship between leadership styles of principals and teachers’ job satisfaction.




The mean and standard deviations of leadership styles of the leaders were calculated on the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire and were presented in table 1.


Table 1.


Mean, SD of perceived leadership styles of principals on Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire and total number of teaching faculties


The mean score for transformational behaviors was highest 3.09, for inspirational motivation and lowest score was 2.75 for intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration. The mean score for transactional behaviors was highest, 2.87 for contingent reward and the lowest score 0.90 for laissez faire. In MLQ analysis, teaching faculties perceived the leadership style of their leaders as mostly transformational based on the total mean transformational leadership behavior score of 57.76 whereas total mean transactional leadership behavior score was 30.83. Table 2 showed the mean and standard deviation of different variables of job satisfaction.


Table 2.


Mean, SD and No. of teaching faculties in the Job Satisfaction Questionnaire



The mean intrinsic job satisfaction was 4.33 while the mean extrinsic job satisfaction of the respondent was 4.43. The total mean score for overall job satisfaction for teachers was high (35.03), with standard deviation of 9.74. On further analysis, it was found that the extrinsic job satisfaction mean (M= 4.43) was higher than the intrinsic job satisfaction mean (M = 4.33), which indicated that teaching faculties were more satisfied with the extrinsic factors of job satisfaction like amount of respect receiving from their superiors, perceived support from administration, participating in determination of methods, procedure and goals. They were less satisfied with intrinsic factors such as working- environment, daily interactions with students, student’s characteristics, feeling of self esteem, opportunity for personal growth, feeling of worthwhile accomplishment etc. 


Pearson Correlational Analysis:


The research questions were analyzed by performing Pearson’s correlations for each leadership style (transformational and transactional) and two subscales of job satisfaction (extrinsic and intrinsic) as shown below in Table 3 and Table 4.


Table 3.


Pearson Coefficients of Transformational Leadership style factors of Principals and Job satisfaction of Teachers


**  p < .01 


The result of the analysis obtained showed that the correlation between both extrinsic and intrinsic job satisfaction factors with four leadership factors of the transformational leadership style were moderate and statistically significant. All these correlations were positive and individualized consideration factor had maximum correlation coefficient value with both intrinsic and extrinsic job satisfaction.


Table 4.


Pearson Coefficient of Transactional Leadership Style factors of Principals and Job Satisfaction of Teachers/Lecturers


 **   p ‹ .01


It was clear from the above table that out of four transactional leadership factors, the correlation between contingent reward factor with both extrinsic and intrinsic job satisfaction factors were moderate, positive and significant. The active management by exception was weakly, positively and significantly correlated to both intrinsic and extrinsic job satisfaction factors, but the correlation between passive management by exception with job satisfaction was non significant. As expected, correlation between laissez faire factor and extrinsic job satisfaction level of teachers was weak, significant but negative but laissez faire was not correlated significantly to the intrinsic job satisfaction factor.


Multiple Regression Analysis


The predictive relationship between the perceived leadership styles of principle and job satisfaction of expatriate teachers was further analyzed by employing multiple regression analysis where transformational and transactional leadership styles as a whole were taken as independent variables and job satisfaction of teachers as dependent variable. Result of regression analysis was shown in the Table 5 and Table 6.


  Table 5.


Regression Analysis of Perceived Total Transformational Leadership Style of Principals on the Job Satisfaction of Teachers/Lecturers



 *  p < .05


Table 6.


Regression Analysis of Perceived Total Transactional Leadership Style of Principals on the Job Satisfaction of Teachers/Lecturers


 * p < .05


It was found that perceived transformational leadership style subscales accounted for 20 % of the variance in job satisfaction of the teachers and perceived transactional leadership style explained the 5 % of variance in teacher’s job satisfaction.


When individual leadership subscales or factors of both transactional and transformational leadership styles were taken as independent variables and job satisfaction of teachers was taken as dependent variable in multiple regression analysis, following result was obtained as shown in Table 7.



Table 7.


Regression Analysis of Perceived Transformational and Transactional Leadership Styles of Principals on the Job Satisfaction of Teachers/ Lecturers


 * Significance level   p < .05


These figures indicated that 28 % of the variance of job satisfaction of teachers was jointly explained by both transformational and transactional leadership style factors of principals. Of the five subscales of transformational leadership style, idealized influence attributed and individualized consideration subscales were significant predictors of the job satisfaction of teachers and lecturers of different multicultural educational organizations in UAE.


The regression model on all the nine dimensions of transformation leadership and transactional leadership was significant as p‹0.05, at F = 12.622. However, this study found a strange result that one of the transformational leadership factors – idealized influence attributed was negatively significant which contradicted the most of the studies in the world. Another transformational leadership factor individualized consideration was positively significant and its magnitude of contribution was highest.




Results of this study clearly indicated that transformational leadership has stronger impact on the job satisfaction of teachers than transactional leadership style. Many research studies supported the theory that the group of transformational leadership factors had stronger positive influence on the job satisfaction than the group of transactional leadership factors (Judge & Piccolo, 2004; A Fatima, 2010). Pearson’s corelational analysis result showed that all five transformational leadership factors were positively and significantly correlated with intrinsic and extrinsic job satisfaction. James Griffith (2004) in his study also found that in educational organizations, principal’s transformational leadership style was directly related to job satisfaction of teachers. Principal’s perceived transformational leadership style affected teacher’s job satisfaction both directly and indirectly as teachers felt highly satisfied when leader provided them opportunities for self development, gave them the feeling of success and allowed them to participate in determining school activities. Principals with transformational leadership skills created environments in which teachers get more involved in creating and enhancing school vision. Thus finding of this result was consistent with the result of other researches (Ozaralli, 2003; Chen et al, 2004).


The findings of this study that only two transactional leadership factors-contingent rewards and active management by exception has moderate to weak effect on the job satisfaction of teachers, support result of previous study (S.Nguni, 2005). Further analysis showed that correlation between laissez faire factor with extrinsic job satisfaction factor was weak, significant and negative. Thus teachers were not satisfied under laissez faire leadership and their perception of job satisfaction is negatively influenced by their principal’s laissez faire leadership style behavior. They do not like to be led by a principal who avoids decision making and is absent when important issues arise. Thus even in multicultural educational organizations, this result was similar to the finding of Judge and Piccolo (2004) and (F. Hamidifar, 2009) that laissez faire leadership style was negatively correlated to the job satisfaction of the teachers.


The results from multiple regression analysis of this study indicated that the transformational leadership accounted for 20 % of the variance for predicting job satisfaction and transactional model accounted for 5 % of the variance for predicting job satisfaction and both together accounted for the 28% of variation in the teacher’s job satisfaction. S. Nguni (2005) in his study in Tanjanian schools found the similar result. This indicates that when teachers perceive their principals as a leader which provide a vision and a sense of mission, inspire pride, stimulates them intellectually and help them to perform well to accomplish the organization goals, teachers are more likely to experience the higher level of job satisfaction.


With regard to the influence of the individual transformational and transactional leadership factors, it was found that two transformational factors – idealized influence attributed and individualized consideration had significant predictive relationship with the job satisfaction of teachers. However they differ in the magnitude and direction of the influence on the outcome variable. The individualized consideration had highest positive influence on the job satisfaction of teachers. According to Yukl (1999) individualized consideration is further subdivided into two sub dimensions:


A. Supportive leadership -.Supportive leader provides emotional, informational, instrumental and appraisal support to followers. According to Yukl (1999) and Judge, Piccalo & Ilies, (2004) supportive leaderships enhances job satisfaction because socio – emotional support increases positive affect and enjoyment at the work place and communicates to followers that they are accepted and liked.




B. Developmental leadership – Leader acts as coach and mentor thus, he enhances follower’s skills and self efficacy and has transformational effect. Higgins and Thomas (2001) found that career oriented assistance and psychological support were positively related to job satisfaction. Since both sub dimensions of individualized consideration leadership factor influence job satisfaction factor, we can conclude that individualized consideration has major positive impact on job satisfaction level of teachers and show strong significant predictive relationship with job satisfaction. A. M. Barnett (2003) in his research indicated that individualized consideration factor of transformational leadership had a significant impact on teacher’s perception of job satisfaction. Thus even in multicultural environment, teacher’s perception of job satisfaction with leadership is more likely to be manifested when the leaders show individualized care and concern for their teachers.


The most surprising finding of this study was that idealized influence attributes behaviors of principals were indicated as significant but negative predictor of teacher’s job satisfaction. This is a strange result as it is contrary to the findings reported in other previous studies (Bogler, 2001; Stumpf, 2003; Chen et al (2004) where it was found that idealized influence was positively related to the job satisfaction of the followers. This negative relationship could however be attributed to the overambitious nature of the leader and his very strong domineering personality. Idealized influence attributed refers to the personality of the leader where he is perceived as confident and powerful (Antonakis et al, 2003). Johnson (1967) & Wright (1991) suggested that the personality of the principal seemed to control the attitude of teachers and that the organizational climate of schools contributed to teacher satisfaction – dissatisfaction.). Since teaching faculties were indirectly forced to accomplish the goals, they might have to work hard and might feel over pressurized. His influence over teachers might be so strong that they feel dominated by him and were forced to achieve the goal of the organization. All these educational organizations are private and principals have been given lots of controlling power over teachers. Teachers might feel scared and had less communication due to his domineering personality and they tended to focus on the negative feedback and this caused inverse effect of idealized attributes of leaders on the teacher’s job satisfaction.


The research findings of Law (2004) showed a strong relationship between principal’s communication style and job satisfaction of teachers. Since teachers working in UAE were of different nationalities and had come from different cultural background, so there might be cultural barriers between principal and teachers and they did not trust their leader completely. There might be communication barrier due to which principal was not able to communicate the organizations goal, mission and vision clearly and hence this misunderstanding created feeling of interference and had caused resentment among teachers. Thus idealized influence attributes of leader might have impacted negatively on their job satisfaction.


Thus the findings of this research were partly consistent with prior research conducted by researchers Kerry Webb (2003) and Meson (1998) who found that attributed charisma and individual consideration were significant positive predictors of follower’s job satisfaction in their research in educational setting in USA. But this study clearly indicated that in multicultural educational organizations, idealized influence attributed leadership style of principals caused negative impact on the job satisfaction of the teachers and showed negative predictive relationship with teachers’ job satisfaction.



Conclusion and Recommendation


Findings of this study indicated that in multicultural educational organizations in the UAE, the perceived transformational leadership style of principals showed more influence over teachers’ job satisfaction than transactional leadership style. The individualized consideration factor of transformational leadership style of principal had strongest positive influence over teachers’ job satisfaction level and showed positive significant predictive relationship with job satisfaction. This implied that teaching faculties working in multicultural educational organizations in UAE liked principal who recognizes teacher as an individual, considers  their unique needs, abilities and ambitions, listens attentively, furthers teacher’s developments, advises, teaches and coaches rather than treating all teachers as though they have the same needs and ambitions. The strange feature of result of this study was that idealized influence attributes of principals had negative significant predictive relationship with teachers’ job satisfaction which contradicted with the result of most studies. It indicated that teaching faculty in UAE did not like principals with idealized influence attribute.


For educational leaders in UAE to succeed in today’s fast changing environment, it is recommended that they adopt a transformational leadership style to enhance the job satisfaction of teaching faculties and ultimately their efficiency and job performance. The influence of individualized consideration leadership is maximum on the teachers’ job satisfaction and idealized influence attributed leadership style should be avoided. Teacher’s job satisfaction can be further improved by providing specific leadership style training to principals. This will strengthen the relationship between principals and their teachers, keep qualified teachers satisfied, retain good teachers in the profession and improve working environment in educational organizations in UAE so that teachers can achieve educational objective in successful manner.




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