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Making conflict work: Authentic
leadership and reactive and
reflective management styles
Principal, Agency for Dispute Resolution, USA
University of La Verne, USA
The relation between authentic leadership (AL) and conflict management is a topic that has not been extensively
researched and merits further empirical examination. In this study, two hypotheses were tested: first, whether AL is
positively correlated with active constructive conflict (ACC) behaviors, and second, whether the conflict management
styles (CMSs) of the organization moderate the relationship between AL and ACC behaviors. Partial least square
structural equation analysis was used to examine the responses of 65 leadership participants in a survey of management
styles. The results supported the hypotheses. A statistically significant relationship was found between AL, as measured by
the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire, and ACC behaviors, as measured by Thomas–Kilmann Instrument; CMSs, as
measured by the Rahim Organizational Conflict Inventory, moderated this relationship. The implications of these findings
are discussed in detail.
active constructive conflict, authentic leadership, conflict, management
The Influence of authentic leadership
and conflict management style on
active constructive conflict
In any organization (governmental, for-profit, or nonprofit
enterprises, etc.), conflict and change are bound to occur.
Whether these conflicts are constructive or destructive
depends significantly on the leader’s ability to recognize
conflict, harness change, and manage context, to achieve
desired outcomes. Constructive conflict can be a positive
force when it leads to necessary changes. What ensues is an
empirical look at how an authentic leader can influence
these very relationships and lead the organization to posi-
tive and lasting change (George, 2004).
In the last few decades, positive psychology has gained
popularity and has influenced some organizations’
orientation toward conflict management by adopting a
more proactive approach to managing conflict. This posi-
tive psychology approach has shifted some research from
trying to find solutions for dysfunctional organizations to
evaluating the benefits of using a positive, strengths-based
approach (Luthans, 2009). Positive organizational behavior
correlates with higher employee performance and increased
employee engagement (McHugh, 2001). George (2004)
identifies five essential dimensions of authentic leaders:
purpose, values, heart, relationships, and self-discipline.
These leadership qualities can be game changers when
dealing with conflict.
Conflict is inevitable, especially in a group setting
where there is a clash of ideas, goals, and techniques
(Tjosvold, 2008). While traditionally conflict was deemed
as something negative, and therefore organizations strived to
avoid it at all costs, in recent times, management theorists
have advocated for an interactionist view on conflict
(Trevino, 1986). This approach emphasizes the fact that con-
flict can be positive (i.e., functional conflict), and a certain
amount of conflict is necessary for growth and innovation.
Positive organizational scholarship (POS) is concerned
with understanding the integration of positive and negative
conditions, instead of merely trying to eliminate the
The authors would like to thank Yeri Cho and Si Hyun Kim for their
review of the article prior to submission to the journal.
Louise Kelly, University of La Verne, 1950 Third Street, La Verne,
CA 91750, USA.
Journal of General Management
2018, Vol. 43(2) 70–78
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permission:
negative ones. POS advocates to harness these constructive
and negative forces as catalysts for positive change. The
POS movement examines organizational performance, and
the difficulties and challenges are interpreted, managed,
and transformed to reveal their underlying positive domain
(Cameron, et al., 2004). Due to the inevitability of conflict,
it is now believed a firm’s ability to constructively handle
conflict can be a source of competitive advantage. Manag-
ers can follow the three Rs—recognition,resolution, and
restoration—to effectively manage conflict, paying atten-
tion to the recognition of latent conflict and restoration.
These are also two areas often ignored by companies, as
they tend to focus solely on resolution. It is important to
identify a latent conflict, especially negative one, to be able
to deal with it before it escalates (Kotter, 1999).
Therefore, as important it is to avoid negative conflict, it
is equally important to maintain a certain level of construc-
tive conflict in an organization (Rahim, 2010). An organi-
zation that does not value constructive conflict risks
stagnating and eventually losing out to competition. Con-
structive conflict allows employees to explore different
ideas and examine underlying interests, which can lead to
innovation. It has also been suggested promoting creativity
in an organization encourages constructive conflict by
avoiding groupthink and encouraging employees to think
outside the box (Rahim, 2010).
This study assesses how leadership styles, specifically a
newer approach to leadership, called authentic leadership
(AL), influences conflict management in organizations to
foster high-performance environments. The research model
is presented in Figure 1.
Literature review and hypotheses
AL is an emergent leadership concept focused on the
moral, emotional, and transparency leadership dimensions.
An underlying assumption of AL is controversies are inev-
itable in organizations (Kanungo and Mendonca, 1996). An
indicator of AL is a willingness to engage with others on
controversial issues and to reveal one’s own position on
these issues instead of the often-embraced managerial
approach of hedging one’s bets, people pleasing, or trying
to portray oneself as an entirely neutral, unbiased figure.
AL is predicated on the idea conflict always exists within
organizations, and a positive approach to leadership entails
not only sharing one’s stance on the controversial issues but
also balanced processing. The balanced processing aspect
of AL means is being able to actually listen to another’s
perspective, even if it differs from one’s own views. Both
of these leadership dimensions of AL, balanced processing
and relational transparency, can influence one’s approach
to constructively resolving the conflict.
AL and ACC
Strategies for conflict resolution are considered in organi-
zational development research as a means to further sus-
tained performance in organizations through employee
engagement. Thomas and Kilmann (1974) outlined five
conflict management strategies, which have been studied
by several other researchers (Wilmot and Hocker, 2011).
Conflict can be negative or positive, depending on
how it is handled (Kelly, 1970). It is, therefore, impor-
tant to be able to measure and evaluate how individuals
handle conflict (Thomas and Kilmann, 1974). The
responses are categorized into constructive or destruc-
tive and active or passive scales and fall into one of
these four domains: active constructive, passive con-
structive, active destructive, and passive destructive.
As measured by the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP),
active constructive behavior involves those responses
(which need some effort or overt action) that usually miti-
gate the adverse effects of conflict, preventing it from esca-
lating. Research suggests effective conflict management is
critical for leaders (Runde and Flanagan, 2010). Four key
constructive behaviors in conflict management are perspective
taking, creating solutions, expressing emotions, and reaching
out and making meaning (Runde and Flanagan, 2010).
Authentic Leadership Active Contractive Conflict Behavior
Conflicting Managing Styles
Figure 1. Research model.
Fotohabadi and Kelly 71
In positive psychology, the meaning is created when
employees find value in their experiences in the workplace
and feel renewed and elevated by their work (Avolio and
Gardner, 2005). The integration of leadership, ethics, and
positive organizational behavior led to the development of
the AL construct. AL is defined as a leadership process in
which the leader is genuinely aware of his or her thinking
and behavior and the context within which it lies. Further,
followers perceive the authentic leader is aware of his or
her own and others’ values and moral perspectives, knowl-
edge, and strengths (Avolio and Gardner, 2005).
Authentic leaders are equally concerned with their
authenticity as well as how to convey authenticity to others
(Avolio and Gardner, 2005). When leaders are aware of
how their actions are perceived by those around them—and
are transparent about their actions—followers have a better
sense of the organizational goals and challenges. Research-
ers (Walumbwa et al. 2008) have identified four main
underlying dimensions of AL: balanced processing, inter-
nalized moral perspective, relational transparency, and
self-awareness. Based on construct validity, the relation-
ship transparency aspect of AL is incompatible with the
avoiding dimension of active constructive conflict (ACC).
The literature on AL (Avolio and Gardner, 2005) refers to
conflict in an indirect way by identifying subdimensions
such as balanced processing (i.e. the ability to actively listen
to another’s point of view even when that point of view is in
opposition to your own opinion) and relationship transpar-
ency (i.e. letting others know where you stand on controver-
sial issues) and by referring to situations where there are
differing opinions that lead to conflict. However, this study
builds on the idea that AL necessitates dealing with opposing
points of views on controversial issues; it includes conflict
resolution behavior as a key component of the manager or
leader’s role. Mintzberg (1971) referred to the role of dispute
resolution as one of the critical dimensions of the manager; a
dispute if not resolved is a short-term disagreement, whereas
conflicts are long-term, deep-rooted problems.
The present research links AL to specific behaviors,
such as competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborat-
ing, and compromising, thereby making more explicit the
influence of AL on actual practices that resolve conflict. In
general, most of the ACC behaviors are positively linked to
AL because one expects an authentic leader to actively
engage to resolve conflicts.
Conflict sometimes engenders healthy competition, which
can lead to performance improvement (Rahim, 2010). The
competing style of conflict management is favored by Amer-
ican culture, according to one study (Kaur and Luxmi, 2013).
In this research, two conflict-handling behaviors, avoiding
and competing, are viewed as being negatively related to AL.
In general, the competing and avoiding approaches to
conflict management negatively correlate with team effec-
tiveness (Rodgers, 2012). Rodgers (2012) concluded coop-
eration, not competition, is an essential element of conflict
management for positive team results and human evolu-
tion. Similarly, Tjosvold (2008) argued competitive rela-
tionships and orientations when dealing with conflict lead
to either avoidance or escalation; both serve to sabotage
decision-making and can break relational bonds within an
Little written has explicitly linked dimensions of AL and
conflict management (Crevani, et al., 2010). Chester Bar-
nard is one of the few authors to write about the functions of
an executive that emphasizes the moral dimensions of man-
agement and the authenticity of an organizational leadership
(Novicevic et al., 2005). Bernard is clear that cooperation
not competition is the key to gaining moral authority within
an organization and its leadership. As such, in this research,
it is posited that AL is incompatible with the competing
mode of conflict management as the competing mode does
not lead to high-performing teams and organizations focused
on a higher purpose (Jehn and Mannix, 2001). High-
performing organizations have authentic leaders who engage
employees in undertakings they care about passionately.
Therefore, AL is not seen as being congruent with the com-
peting mode of conflict management.
The integration of POS concept of ACC and the AL
literature leads to the first set of hypotheses:
H1a: There is a positive relationship between AL and all
of the modes of ACC of the individual, except the avoid-
ing and competing dimensions.
H1b: There is a negative relationship between AL and
the avoiding dimension of ACC.
H1c: There is a negative relationship between AL and
the competing dimension of ACC.
CMS and ACC behavior
Several researchers studied conflict management styles
(CMSs) and their outcomes (Jordan and Troth, 2002). The
dominating style—focusing on winning the conflict and
defeating the opposing side (Runde and Flanagan,
2010)—can be used if the conflict involves trivial or rou-
tine matters, or when quick decisions need to be taken
(Rahim, 2002). The avoiding style—where issues are
ignored—allows another party to fulfill its demands. This
avoiding is appropriate when the potential adverse effect of
confronting the other side outweighs the potential benefits.
Groups with members who avoid conflict tend to underper-
form because members get frustrated trying to avoid con-
flict and start competing (Tjosvold, 2008).
An obliging style is when an individual makes concessions
in a conflict situation and gives in to the other person (Runde
and Flanagan, 2010). This style plays down the differences
and emphasizes the commonalities to satisfy the other party’s
concern and is mostuseful when preservingthe relationship is
critical (Rahim, 2002). Therefore, subordinates tend to use a
more obliging style with superiors, to maintain the relation-
ship (Rahim, 1983). However, research has shown conflicts
resolved through competition, accommodation, or avoidance
often has adverse consequences on working relationships and
work performance (Jordan and Troth, 2002).
In the compromising style, the parties involved indulge
in a ‘‘give-and-take’’ approach to arrive at a mutually
72 Journal of General Management 43(2)
acceptable decision (Rahim, 2002). This method is useful if
the conflict involves complex issues and consensus cannot
be reached. In the integration style, parties seek to arrive at
a mutually advantageous or win-win solution (Runde and
Flanagan, 2010). Integration involves information
exchange, openness, and finding alternative solutions
acceptable to both parties. This is appropriate in situations
where it is necessary to have a synthesis of ideas to find the
best option. According to the contingency/situational
approach, there is no best style. The effectiveness of a CMS
depends on the nature of the conflict situation (Jordan and
Troth, 2002; Rahim, 2002).
The Thomas–Kilmann model shows how individuals
can select among five different approaches to conflict man-
agement. However, the present research is not only inter-
ested in how people react to conflict but also in how the
organizational context influences or moderates the personal
choices individuals make. To capture this organizational
context, it was determined to use the CMS to measure the
respondent’s conflict approach with one’s supervisor.
In the present research, there is a link between the AL
and the ACC choices individuals make—whereby the mod-
erating variable of organizational CMS, which captures the
organizational context, influences the relationship between
a person’s AL and ACC options. The CMS instrument
measures the organizational context of conflict manage-
ment—in this case conflict with one’s supervisor.
The review of the literature leads to the second set of
H2a: The relationship between AL and ACC is moder-
ated by the avoiding style with the supervisor, such that
the relationship is weaker.
H2b: The relationship between AL and ACC is moder-
ated by the obliging style with the supervisor, such that
the relationship is stronger.
H2c: The relationship between AL and ACC is moder-
ated by the dominating style with the supervisor, such
that the relationship is stronger.
H2d: The relationship between AL and ACC is moder-
ated by the compromising style with the supervisor, such
that the relationship is weaker.
H2e: The relationship between AL and ACC is moder-
ated by the integrating style with the supervisor, such
that the relationship is weaker.
The research model is displayed in Figure 1.
Qualtrics, a survey platform service, was used to contact 85
executives who held a leadership role, defined as being in
charge of at least five manager subordinates. Participants
completed the Rahim Organizational Conflict Inventory
(ROCI), the Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument,
and the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ). The
final sample size was 65, representing a valid item response
rate of 76.4%. Partial least squares structural equation mod-
eling (PLS-SEM) was conducted.
Table 1 lists the latent variables, instruments and the mea-
surement indicators of the research model. The demo-
graphic characteristics of respondents are presented in
Tables 2 and 3 which show the Pearson correlations of the
variables. Table 4 is the factor and cross-factor loadings,
average variance extracted (AVE), and reliability.
The factor analysis CMS moderator presented two fac-
tors, as shown in Table 4. The first factor consisted of the
avoiding, obliging, and dominating styles. This was named
the reactive CMS. The two other CMS measurement indi-
cators, the compromising and integrating styles, were
therefore named reflective CMS.
AL was entered as a latent variable, formulated with the
subdimensions of balanced processing, internalized moral
perspective, leader self-awareness, and relationship trans-
parency. Results indicate AL exhibited high convergent
validity as presented in Table 4.
H1: Table 5 shows there is a positive relationship
between AL and collaborating mode (b¼0.444), com-
promising mode (b¼0.375), and accommodating mode
(b¼0.138), and there is a negative relationship with
avoiding mode (b¼0.100) and competing mode (b¼
0.405). The R
values indicated AL explained the
Table 1. Latent variable, instrument, and measurement indicator
of research model.
Latent variable Instrument
Fotohabadi and Kelly 73
highest proportion of the variance in collaborating mode
(19.7%), followed in order of magnitude by lower pro-
portions of the variance in competing mode (16.4%),
compromising mode (14.0%), accommodating mode
(1.9%), and avoiding mode (1.0%).
All the tvalues exceeded the critical value, t(1) > 1.96,
p< 0.05. There is a significant positive relationship between
AL and all of the modes of ACC of the individual, except the
avoiding dimension; thus, hypothesis 1a is supported.
Similarly, as predicted by hypothesis 1b, there is a sig-
nificant negative relationship between AL and the avoiding
dimension of ACC. Also, as predicted by hypothesis 1c,
there is a significant negative relationship between AL and
the competing dimension of ACC.
The model predicted a high AL is related to (a)
increased compromising (i.e. arriving at more mutually
acceptable decisions), (b) increased collaborating (i.e.
arriving at more mutually advantageous decisions),
(c) increased accommodating (i.e. less neglect of the lead-
ers’ concerns to satisfy the needs of others), (d) decreased
competing (i.e. less assertive and uncooperative behaviors),
and (e) decreased avoiding (i.e. less adopting of a wait-and-
watch approach in a conflict situation).
H2: CMS is divided into two latent variables because
two dimensions, as explained above, were extracted
from the ROCI item scores using confirmatory factor
The CMS of avoiding, obliging, and dominating, with
convergent validity which is named reactive conflict
management (factor loadings ¼0.685, 0.793, and
0.685, respectively, explaining 44.8%of the variance
in Table 6). The CMS of compromising and integrating
with convergent validity (factor loadings ¼0.884 and
0.809, respectively, explaining 28.3%of the variance) is
named reflective conflict management (Table 6). The
two latent variables of CMSs were named as reactive
and reflective. The reactive CMS represents the contra-
rian mindset of a leader who takes a minority viewpoint,
whereas the reflective CMS represents a conformist
mindset where the leader opts to maintain status quo
and to follow generally accepted convention and to col-
laborate with subordinates.
Statistical evidence in Table 6 demonstrates support for
the moderating effect described in hypothesis 2. Thus, high
levels of reactive or reflective CMS were positively asso-
ciated with high levels of ACC.
There is a significant effect on the collaborating mode
(b¼0.17; p< 0.05; change b¼0.13; p< 0.05) due to the
interaction between reactive CMS and AL. There is also a
significant effect with the collaborating mode interaction
(b¼0.014; p0.05; change b¼0.35; p0.05) due to
the interaction between reflective CMS and AL. Finally,
there is a significant effect in the avoiding mode interaction
(b¼0.35; p0.05) due to the moderating effect of
reflective CMS and AL.
Table 6 also shows the interaction effect. The reactive or
reflective CMS moderate the relationship between AL and
collaborating mode. There is a significant negative rela-
tionship between reactive CMS and collaborating mode,
b¼0.270, t(1)¼12.72, p< 0.05. Thus, if there is an
increase in reactive CMS (i.e. more avoiding, dominating,
and obliging), then a high AL results in a decrease in the
collaborating mode (i.e. the participants would not arrive at
more mutually advantageous decisions and solutions).
There is a significant positive relationship between
reflective CMS and collaborating mode, b¼0.129,
t(1)¼3.60, p<0.05. Thus, if there is an increase in
reflective CMS (i.e. more compromising and integrating),
then a high AL results in an improvement in the collabor-
ating mode (i.e. the participants arrive at more mutually
Statistical evidence in Table 6 shows support for
hypothesis 2b that CMS moderates the relationship
between AL style and competing mode. There is a signif-
icant positive relationship between reactive CMS and com-
peting mode, b¼0.187, t(1)¼12.83, p< 0.05. The
positive path coefficient for reactive CMS predicted if there
is an increase in reactive CMS (i.e., more avoiding, dom-
inating, and obliging), then a high AL increases the compet-
ing mode (i.e., more assertive and uncooperative behaviors).
There is a significant negative relationship between reflec-
tive CMS and competing mode, b¼0.263, t(1)¼4.99,
p< 0.05. Thus, if there is an increase in reflective CMS (i.e.
more compromising and integrating), then a high AL
results in a decrease in the competing mode (i.e. less asser-
tive and uncooperative behaviors).
Table 2. Demographic characteristics of respondents.
Characteristic Category n%
Gender Male 36 55.40
Female 29 44.60
Age (years) 31–40 23 35.40
41–50 20 30.80
51–60 11 16.90
26–30 7 10.80
60 3 4.60
Company type Private 38 58.50
Public 23 35.40
Nonprofit organization 1 1.50
Other 1 1.50
Current position CEO/president 16 24.60
Senior-level manager 13 20.00
Executive/vice president 12 18.50
Owner/partner 10 15.40
Middle manager 8 12.30
First-level supervisor 6 9.20
Total gross sales
volume of company
>$50 million 17 26.20
$5 million–$10 million 10 15.40
$2.5 million–$5 million 9 13.80
$1 million–$2.5 million 7 10.80
$20 million–$30 million 6 9.20
$10 million–$20 million 4 6.20
$25,000–$49,999 3 4.60
$30 million–$50 million 3 4.60
$100,000–$199,999 2 3.10
$500,000–$599,999 2 3.10
$600,000–$999,999 2 3.10
74 Journal of General Management 43(2)
Statistical evidence in Table 6 shows support for
hypothesis 2c that CMS moderates the relationship
between AL style and compromising mode. There is a sig-
nificant negative relationship between reactive CMS and
compromising mode, b¼0.180, t(1), p< 0.05. Thus, if
there is an increase in the reactive CMS (i.e. more avoiding,
dominating, and obliging), then a high AL results in a
decrease in the compromising mode (i.e. the participants
arrive at less mutually acceptable decisions). There is sig-
nificant positive relationship between reflective CMS and
compromising mode, b¼0.226, t(1)¼6.86, p< 0.05.
Thus, if there is an increase in the reflective CMS (i.e.,
more compromising and integrating), then a high AL
results in an increase in the compromising mode (i.e., the
participants arrive at more mutually acceptable decisions).
Table 6 shows support for hypothesis 2d: that CMS
moderates the relationship between AL style and accom-
modating mode. There is a significant negative relationship
between reactive CMS and accommodating mode,
b¼0.189, t(1)¼19.34, p< 0.05. If there is an increase
in the reactive CMS (i.e. more avoiding, dominating, and
obliging), then a high AL results in a decrease in the
accommodating mode (i.e. the leaders would not neglect
their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of others). There
is a significant positive relationship between reflective
CMS and accommodating mode (b¼0.289, t(1)¼
10.83, p< 0.05). The positive path coefficient for reflective
CMS predicted if there is an increase in the reflective CMS
(i.e. more compromising and integrating), then a high AL
increases the accommodating mode (i.e. the leaders tend to
neglect their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of others).
Table 6 shows support for hypothesis 2e that CMS mod-
erates the relationship between AL style and avoiding
mode. There is a significant positive relationship between
reactive CMS and avoiding mode, b¼0.393, t(1)¼
28.18, p< 0.05. If there is an increase in the reactive CMS
(i.e. more avoiding, dominating, and obliging), then a high
AL results in an increase in the avoiding mode (i.e. more
adopting of a wait and watch approach in a conflict situa-
tion). There is a negative (yet nonsignificant) relationship
between reflective CMS and avoiding mode (b¼0.031).
The model predicted if there is an increase in the reflective
CMS (i.e. more compromising and integrating), then a high
AL results in no change in the avoiding mode (i.e. there is
no effect on the adopting of a wait and see approach).
The results of the present study indicate there is a positive
relationship between AL and some modes of ACC. This find-
ing suggests leaders scoring higher on AL favor compromis-
ing, collaborating, and accommodating behavior when
confronted with conflict, thus confirming hypothesis 1. The
model predicted a high AL resulted in (a) increased compro-
mising, (b) increased collaborating, (c) increased accommo-
dating, (d) decreased competing, and (e) decreased avoiding.
According to Thomas and Kilmann (1974), leaders who
score highly on collaborating approachconflictinanassertive
and cooperative manner and often work creatively with the
opposing party to find new solutions that expedite goal
Table 3. Correlation matrix.
MSD12 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Authentic leadership 0.842 0.032 – 0.241** 0.252* 0.442** 0.417* 0.510* 0.224** 0.443*
2. Collaborating mode 0.306 0.133 – 0.100* 0.310* 0.128* 0.092* 0.415*** 0.120*
3. Compromising mode 0.271 0.169 – 0.147** 0.029* 0.207** 0.657* 0.473**
4. Accommodating mode 0.169 0.190 – 0.289** 0.300* 0.482* 0.327*
5. Competing mode 0.327 0.131 – 0.184* 0.574* 0.435**
6. Avoiding mode 0.139 0.179 – 0.410** 0.388**
7. Reactive CMS – – – 0.129**
8. Reflective CMS – – –
Note: CMS: conflict management style.
*p< 0.05; **p< 0.01; ***p< 0.10.
Table 4. Factor and cross-factor loadings, average variance
extracted, and reliability.
Factor AVE a
Authentic leadership 68.4 0.841
Balanced processing 0.806 –
Leader self-awareness 0.860 –
Relationship transparency 0.775 –
Avoiding style 0.685 0.142
Obliging style 0.793 0.283
Dominating style 0.685 0.281
Compromising style 0.884 0.152
Integrating style 0.809 0.411
Note: AVE: average variance extracted.
Table 5. Summary of path analysis for authentic leadership and
active constructive conflict.
AL !Collaborating mode 0.444 0.197
AL !Compromising mode 0.375 0.140
AL !Accommodating mode 0.138 0.019
AL !Competing mode 0.405 0.164
AL !Avoiding mode 0.100 0.010
Note: AL: authentic leadership.
*p< 0.05; **p< 0.01.
Fotohabadi and Kelly 75
attainment for all involved. Collaborating and having an open
mind means the leader is receptive to learning from others’
insights and tries to find a creative solution to an interpersonal
The statistical evidence also supported the second
hypothesis (at the p< 0.05 level) that CMS moderates the
correlations between AL and the five modes of ACC beha-
vior. Five PLS path models explained 21.4–48.7%of the
variance in the five modes.
If there is an increase in CMS, involving more avoiding,
dominating, or obliging, then the PLS path models predicted
an increase in AL is associated with (a) a decrease in collabor-
ating, (b) an increase in competing, (c) a decrease in compro-
mising, (d) a decrease in accommodating, and (e) an increase
in avoiding. In contrast, if there is an increase in the levels of
CMS involving more compromising and integrating, then the
PLS path models predicted an increase in AL is associated
with an increase in collaborating, (b) a decrease in competing,
(c) an increase in compromising, and (d) an increase in accom-
modating; however, there is no change in avoiding.
Discussion of the research findings
Results from this study suggest when the leader is more
authentic, he or she manages the conflict more constructively.
Furthermore, operationalizing the subscales of the variables
sheds greater light on what behaviors were more strongly
correlated with the particular dimensions of the AL construct.
The results obtained in this present study support previ-
ous research in the area of conflict management and AL.
Past research (Goleman, 1998; Thomas and Kilmann,
1974) identified several skills as hallmarks of collaborative
conflict management, which also comprises some of the
key components of the five modes of ACC.
This study found organizational leaders used the inte-
grating style most frequently, followed by the compromis-
ing style and dominating style. The obliging and avoiding
styles were the least commonly used among the leaders.
This finding is consistent with previous research found the
most commonly used styles—as reported by both leaders
and subordinates—to be integrating, compromising, obli-
ging, dominating, and avoiding, respectively. Another
similar study on healthcare leaders found the compromis-
ing style to be the most frequently used, followed by col-
laborating (integrating), accommodating (obliging), and,
finally, competing (dominating) (Woodtli, 1987).
Previous research also reveals there are significant inter-
relationsh ips among the diffe rent CMSs. The inte grating style
is positively related to the obliging and compromising styles
and negatively related to the dominating style. The obliging
and compromising styles are also positively related to the
avoiding style. As noted by Rahim (1983), leaders need to
be equipped with a range of strategies to handle conflict.
Results of the present study have several implications for
leaders, teams, and their organizations. The instruments used
in this study can be leveraged as productive assessment tools
to improve organizational employment practices (screening,
hiring, orienting, evaluating, promoting, etc.), as well as to
gain a better understanding of the interdependent dynamics of
work groups and teams. Developing AL reduces reliance on
outside dispute resolution services by showing that underly-
ing interests, if unheeded, lead to conflict.
The success of well-integrated, high-performing teams is
often attributed to the leader and his or her command of the
various constructs (AL and ACC behaviors) and the modera-
tors (CMS) presented here. Specifically, this research demon-
strated how managers leverage the AL attributes of self-
awareness and emotional regulation (i.e. avoiding inappropri-
ate emotional outbursts) to determine the best course of action.
Authentic leaders create systematic environments conducive
to the operating principles and core values of the organization,
allowing the team to achieve high-impact results in shorter
periods of time (Harkins, 2006). The five CMSs explored here
also offer leaders an opportunity to harness differences, and
leverage conflict, as a catalyst for constructive change that
leads an organization to greater innovation (Runde, 2012).
Leveraging the findings from this study, leaders can
have a greater awareness of their own culture; under-
stand the importance of constructive organizational
environments; and identify the factors supporting the
growth of their support teams, managers, and personnel
(Senge, 2014). Accordingly, to thrive, leaders can create
a constructive environment that encourages and equips
their staff with tools to reach their full potential
Table 6. Path analysis of AL and reflective and reactive management style on ACC.
Reflective and reactive CMS
Moderator Moderator and interaction term
AL !Collaborating mode Reactive 0.166* 0.214 0.130* 0.221
Reflective 0.014* 0.139 0.020* 0.145
AL !Compromising mode Reactive 0.022 0.445 0.011 0.437
Reflective 0.151 0.251 0.189 0.258
AL !Accommodating mode Reactive 0.370 0.367 0.245 0.378
Reflective 0.423 0.275 0.348 0.276
AL !Competing mode Reactive 0.282 0.392 0.268 0.396
Reflective 0.150 0.242 0.160 0.25
AL !Avoiding mode Reactive 0.469 0.499 0.433 0.506
Reflective 0.352* 0.311 0.352 0.311
Note: ACC: active constructive conflict; CMS: conflict management style; AL: authentic leadership.
*p< 0.05; **p< 0.01.
76 Journal of General Management 43(2)
(Walumbwa et al., 2010). The organization, therefore, has
to entrust the leader and allow him or her to empower his
or her respective teams with the tools necessary to achieve
higher levels of engagement, motivation, growth, satisfac-
tion, and teamwork. These constructive cultural norms are
evident in environments in which quality is valued over
quantity, creativity is valued over conformity, cooperation
is believed to lead to better results than competition, and
effectiveness is judged at the system level rather than the
Leadership autonomy in practice
Leaders should create an environment that is comfortable
with conflict (De Pree, 1989). Findings from this study sup-
port the idea that authentic leaders can leadto more construc-
tive conflictbehavior. Furthermore, leaders whoare equipped
by their organizations, entrusted with some autonomy, and
given explicit latitude to practice a range of AL can recognize
and skillfully handle conflict through collaboration and avoid
overreliance on the compromising CMS (Rahim, 1983),
which can often be detrimental to organizational growth.
Training programs developed to address AL, CMS, and
ACC behaviors positively impact the organization’s growth
potential and allow authentic leaders to gain greater self-
awareness and self-regulation (Qian et al., 2012), which
translates into more effective leadership all around.
Cultural context is a significant variable that should be con-
sidered in organizational leadership in an ever-increasing
global marketplace.Work ethics, conflict management beha-
viors, communication styles, and leadership–management–
labor relationships are different from country to country;
therefore, a successful global authentic leader mustrecognize
and understand the cultural backgrounds of his or her person-
nel and should be able to freely operate across a range of
contexts. In a competitive global landscape, authentic leaders
who can effectively manage diversity can also implement
increasingly complex business strategies (Okoro, 2012).
Leaders need to appreciate cross-cultural differences and
leverage them into amicable outcomes for all involved. Lead-
ers must exert greater appreciation for individual cultural
differences without personal bias. In doing so, leaders can
better fulfill their responsibility to create a cross-cultural
organization conducive to greater organizational innovation.
In recent years, the importance of cross-cultural diversity and
AL has even prompted scholars to measure a leader’s cultural
intelligence or cultural competence (Rockstuhl et al., 2011).
Because cultural competence is significantly related to individ-
ual international experiences, global leaders should be aware
and appreciate the diversity they face in leadership practices.
Moreover, the importance of cross-cultural diversity is
significantly more pronounced nowadays that leadership
and management positions are increasingly occupied by
females, culturally diverse individuals, older individuals,
individuals with disabilities, and individuals with diverse
lifestyles (Carr-Ruffino, 2005). On the surface, this wide
range of people translates into new challenges and inherent
workplace conflict; however, it also offers organizations
new and fresh ideas and perspectives, leading to a unique
competitive global advantage. Leaders who can recognize
and respect such inherent differences and can effectively
navigate the complexities and avoid racism, sexism, and
ageism using the tools in this research can further enhance
organizational competitiveness and performance.
Conflict as catalyst to innovation
Another purpose of this research is to explore change and
conflict as it inevitably occurs within organizations. These
differences often create greater relationship complexity and
tension among personnel. Whether it’s cross-cultural diver-
sity or workplace disputes, tensions can have negative results;
yet, they can also be an organizat ion’s greatest asset—if prop-
erly harnessed. An authentic leader with self-awareness and a
range of ACC behaviors can draw such strength from diver-
sity or conflict to initiate positive innovation.
A prime example of a leader’s ability to instigate con-
structive conflict as a catalyst for positive change is Tim
Cook CEO of Apple, a master at constructive conflict
(Lashinsky, 2015). Cook’s meetings with subordinates often
last 5–6 h as he relentlessly goes over every detail. His
subordinates prepare for the meetings like they were prepar-
ing for a last, most decisive test. If perchance any number
was not right or missing, Cook seizes on it and as a result,
these meetings could be intimidating. Cook often solicits an
inquiry from a representative many times. Over and over,
Cook asks questions: Why is that?; What does it signify?; I
don’t get it, Why are you not making it clear? Cook’s con-
flict style has played out in the public sphere, where he
criticized the BBC for a documentary critical of Apple’s
labor practices in China. Although Cook adopted a compet-
itive approach, with the BBC as he did with his subordinates,
in the end, he pursued collaborative solutions, including
partnerships with NGOs to ensure 60-h working weeks in
China. This is an example of a contrarian leadership style.
Contrarian leadership takes best practices and shows why
leaders should sometimes do the opposite. This present study’s
findings stretch the view of leadership practices to include this
contrarian approach to conflict management. Specifically, col-
laboration within leadership canbeenhancedbyaddingcon-
trary actions to accomplish a common goal. The leadership has
to strike a balance between collaboration and leadership. This
can be particularly in the context of cross-functional teams,
where conflict management is a fundamental challenge.
Any organization can celebrate organizational change,
harness its inherent systematic differences, and leverage its
diversity of human capital—each person’s capabilities,
engagement, performance, creativity, integrity, and com-
mitment to quality and customer care—to effectively suc-
ceed in ways that were historically not possible. This
contrarian approach, integrating collaboration with compe-
tition, can be particularly useful in the maturity stage of the
organizational life cycle when organizations often priori-
tize planning and routine work focus over innovative
expansion. This study validates that authentic leader can
Fotohabadi and Kelly 77
leverage their organizational climate to empower employ-
ees to embrace differences and in so doing elevate the
organization’s competitive advantage.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflict of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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