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Attributional theory of leadership: a model of functional attributions and behaviors

C. Lakshman (Tata Management Training Centre, Pune, India)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 13 June 2008




The purpose of this paper is to develop a positive and functional attributional model of leadership, using both leadership perceptions and leadership effectiveness as criteria. Drawing from cognitive complexity theory, and attributional complexity theory, this article identifies attributional accuracy of managers as the fundamental component of the functional model developed here. The model of leadership developed here focuses on such key leadership constructs as leader information processing using complex schemata, leader attributions and their accuracy, leader behaviors that follow their attributions, mediating variables such as subordinate self‐efficacy, satisfaction, and motivation, and outcome variables such as leadership perceptions and subordinate performance. These variables are linked in a process model.


The article depends on a critical review of the literature to build a theoretical model consistent with theory building guidelines.


Accurate attributions and the avoidance of attributional biases are identified as key factors determining effectiveness and leadership perceptions. Leader interactive behaviors, feedback latency, and the development of strategies for improving performance are identified as key consequences of attributional accuracy.

Practical implications

This article has implications for the ways in which managers are selected and trained to provide leadership in organizations.


The theory developed here breaks new ground in the investigation of the positive and functional attributional processes of leaders leading to organizational or unit effectiveness. This research contributes to knowledge by pointing to the functional role of accurate attributions and the delineation of the processes through which such attributions can lead to enhancing subordinate motivation and hence leadership effectiveness.



Lakshman, C. (2008), "Attributional theory of leadership: a model of functional attributions and behaviors", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 317-339.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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