The Self-Efficacy Component of the 21st Century Organizational Leader facing Multivariate Challenges of the Highly Volatile Global Environment.

29 05 2010

– By Dr. Mark Ellis

Decades ago, Dr. Albert Bandura of Stanford University introduced a concept identified as the self-efficacy. Self-efficacy extends far beyond self-esteem or self-confidence. The resiliency level of global leaders have been directly related to the internal factors of self-efficacy as indicated by established self report measures. As the author suggests in this article there is a direct relation between self-efficacy and the effectiveness of the global organizational leader.


Conceptually, researchers have proposed that self-efficacy has a positive correlation with task performance, organization-wide performance and effective leadership (Bandura, 1988; Bandura & Wood, 1989; Smith, Kass, Rotunda & Schneider, 2006). Further, how a leader who thinks and feels about their abilities to effectively lead has been established as predictor of leadership effectiveness (Bandura & Wood, 1989; Gist & Mitchell, 1992; Hartsfield, 2003; Woods, 2004). Additionally, McCormick (2001) posits that one of the most frequently reported findings in leadership literature is the relationship between a leader self-confidence and successful leadership in just about any organizational context. Further, McCormick (2001) bases his hypotheses on Bandura’s (1986) research that leadership self-efficacy is a key factor which plays an important role in a leader’s ability to be effective in a complex, adversarial, challenging, or dynamic environment. He further indicates the importance of considering self-efficacy as it relates to leadership behaviors amid various situations as it may result in a broader view of the leadership process.

At the end of the 20th century there was only a minor amount of research conducted which studied the impact of self-efficacy as it relates to various leadership models (Bandura, 1997; Gist, 1987, 1989; Gist & Mitchell, 1992; Locke & Latham, 1990; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998). Since that time, further research has been conducted in order to give a clearer understanding of how self-efficacy has relates to, and is associated with performance and effective leadership (Chemers et al., 2000; Chen & Bliese, 2002; Locke & Latham, 2004; McCormick, 2001). The literature suggests that self-efficacy may be an important ingredient for effective leadership in the area of performance and positive follower influence (Gist, 1987, 1989; Gist & Mitchell, 1992; Locke & Latham, 2004; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998).

Bandura (1994) defines self-efficacy as a person’s belief in their capability to exercise control over their own functioning and over events that affect their lives. In his earlier research, Bandura suggested that there was a growing body of evidence that success and accomplishments required an optimistic self-belief (1991). He further notes that finding show that people who are socially anxious are prone to depression are often just as socially skilled as those who do not suffer such problems. While nondepressed people also have a stronger believe that the exercise some control over situations (p.3). Moreover, Bandura (1994) suggests that individuals developed in self-efficacy are able to master experiences, be efficient in social persuasion, and possess personal strengths. Bandura (1994) further posits that because of opposition, complexities, impediments, adversities, and apparent setbacks, it is crucial for a person to have a robust sense of efficacy in order to sustain perseverance, tenacity and determination essential to success. Further, he indicates that successes which are experienced in life also bring about new types of challenges thereby requiring new types of competency and development of personal efficacy for successful functioning (1994).

Later research reveals that self-efficacy involves a judgment of how well a person may execute of course of action when such an individual is required to do so with the prospect of situation (Chowdhury, 1993; Srivastava, Rajesh, Pelton & Strutton, 2001). Past research has revealed that self-efficacy refers to an individual’s perception of his or her own mastery within a limited task domain (Chowdhury, 1993). Further, as the literature suggests, the effacious individual should be typically motivated to allocate higher effort if he or she believe their efforts will result in higher performance (Srivastava, Rajesh, Pelton & Strutton, 2001).

In the early part of the 21st century, a study conducted by Srivastava, Rajesh, Pelton and Strutton (2001) revealed that individuals with a higher level of self-efficacy perceptions exhibited a greater level of persistence in their efforts. Further, they also note that similar effects have been observed for individuals in terms of the relationships between their self-efficacy perceptions and quivering persistence (Srivistava & Sager, 1999). Further, individuals with a strong level of self-efficacy when encountering situations or events they feel capable of leading or managing to generally behave a substantial assurance. Further self-efficacy expectations may influence how much effort and individual will put forth when faced with complexity, challenges, obstacles, and unfavorable circumstances. Further, Rajesh, Pelton & Strutton (2001) found that individuals might work order when they realize their limitations and attempt to compensate for them (p.3).

Empirical research has also been associated with work performance and a person’s ability to adapt to the technological changes which have been prevalent in the last two decades (Hill, Smith, & Mann, 1987). Self-efficacy is also been found to be related to effective leadership performance under stressful situations (Murphy, 1992). Further, self- efficacy has been shown to have a positive influence on an individual’s ability to effectively function in an environment of a rapid change (Judge, Thoresen, Pucik & Welbourne, 1999).

Bandura (1986) asserts that confident, persevering individuals who have a robust sense of self-efficacy are driven by inner forces rather than merely influenced by external pressures. Moreover, Bandura also notes that having knowledge skill and ability is not enough as individuals who may possess knowledge, skill and ability may also be a person who doubts their own ability to accomplish a given task (1986). Bandura (1997) also clarifies that self-efficacy is based on a person’s perception of their capability and not knowledge skill and ability alone. This is supported by research which reveals that a spacious individuals draw from their perceived it ability and past performance as their source of efficacy as personal successes as well as positive vicarious experiences serve to augment self-efficacy (Chen et al., 2001; Lee & Bobko, 1994; Locke & Latham, 1990; Podsakoff & Farh, 1989; Wood & Bandura, 1989). Self-efficacy has a direct correlation between self-confidence or self-doubt (Bandura & Wood, 1989). Such self-doubt is generally destructive and may be attributed to individuals who dwell on their personal deficiencies, viewing them as obstacles were rather than opportunities to overcome and excel in a given situation (Carver, Peterson, Follansbee & Scheier, 1983; Martocchio, 1994; Wood & Bandura, 1989).

General versus Task Specific Self-Efficacy

As Smith, Kass, Rotunda and Schneider (2006) observe, there is a considerable difference between general and task specific self-efficacy. Accordingly, Bandura (1977) posits that efficacy expectations vary on three dimensions consisting of magnitude, strength, and generality. Of the three dimensions identified by Bandura, generality has been shown to produce the most controversy in the literature (Smith, Kass, Rotunda & Schneider, 2006, p. 2). Some researchers contend that the measurement of self-efficacy must be task specific (Weigand & Stockham, 2000) while others argue that self-efficacy is a measurable trait that picks behavior across domains (Smith, Kass, Rotunda & Schneider, 2006). Further, Bandura posits that self-efficacy is primarily task specific (1986). Further, the research reveals that the strength of efficacy expectations varies as individuals with stronger expectations of mastery persevere are longer than those with weaker expectations (Bandura, 1995).

Self-Efficacy Construct

As the literature suggests, there remains a considerable amount of debate over the concept of the self-efficacy construct (Chen, Gully & Eden, 2001; Chen, Gully, Whiteman, & Kilcullen, 2000; Scholz, Dona, Sud & Schwarzer, 2002; Schwarzer, 1992; Schwarzer & Jerusalem, 1995). As such, researchers have suggested that there are trait like characteristics that exist within a person whom possesses a strong level of positive self-efficacy. Further, other researchers have presented strong evidence, producing a convincing argument that general self-efficacy is a uni-dimensional universal trait (Scholz et al., 2002). While Bandura, (1977) was adamantly opposed to generalized beliefs about the self, he purported that such generalized beliefs are not good proximal predictors of behavior (Smith, Kass, Rotunda & Schneider, 2006) while others like Chand et al., (2000) supporting Bandura (1997) argued that task specific self-efficacy and a general self-efficacy were highly correlated, and that the effects of trait like general self-efficacy on performance were mediated by task specific self-efficacy which Chand et al., (2000) asserts are considered to be a more direct measure of motivational state (Smith et al., 2006).

Others suggest that self-efficacy consists of one’s estimates of one’s capabilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and course of action needed to exercise general control over events in one’s life (Judge, Locke, Durham & Kluger, 1998). While Chen (2001) purports that self-efficacy may be viewed for different types of tasks and different types of settings, Eden (1988) goes on to argue by contending that self-efficacy may spill over into specific situations. As such, the debate has continued to seek out as to whether self-efficacy is situation specific or a generalized trait in which an individual who possesses a specific level of self-efficacy may function in any situation and under a variety of conditions, regardless of external environment (Judge, Locke, Durham, & Kluger, 1998). Whether the construct of self-efficacy is concerned with trade or task orientation, the literature does suggest that self-efficacy may be linked to effective leadership found in the behaviors of an individual considered to be transformational (Chemers et al., 2000; Hartsfield, 2003; McCormick, 2001 Woods, 2004).

Linking Self-Efficacy and Organizational Leadership

Mintzberg (2006) suggests that it is critical for a leader who is dealing with complexity to understand that performance improvement, and efficient organizational efficiency is pulled together through the process of change. Critical to that change is the ability of a leader and the organization to effectively deal with change. Further, Massyn (2006) observes that the most leadership roles require the same basics and successful leaders are experienced as being self-confident, highly analytical, conceptual, and driven to improve performance (p.112).

Research indicates that leaders under the strain of bringing about organizational change should score high in self-efficacy in order to prevent harmful reactions as a result of such strains Schaubroeck et al., (2000). Moreover, they suggest that organizations should focus on increasing self-efficacy as suggested by Gist and Mitchell (1992) and Wood and Bandura, (1989). Moreover, Chen and Bliese (2002) found that positive atmosphere created by the leader of the positive impact on followers, revealing the leader behavior to the employers was a greater predictor of collective efficacy than an employee self-efficacy.

As previous research has revealed, transformational leaders possess the necessary components to bring about positive collective efficacy in an organization undergoing transformation and change. Further, a study conducted by Paglis and Green (2001) developed and tested a leadership model that focused on individuals attempts at leading organizational change. They suggested that leadership self-efficacy could be comprised of direction setting, gaining followers commitment, and overcoming obstacles to change.

They based their research on Bandura’s, (1986) social cognitive theory purporting that the primary hypothesis is that leaders who scored high in self-efficacy would be engaged not only ineffective leadership, but also such leaders would exhibit more leadership attempts. Their findings demonstrated that leaders who scored high in self-efficacy were involved in a higher level of organizational commitment, overcame obstacles, and were more effective at motivating and cultivating subordinates performance abilities.

The above mentioned studies support the research conducted by Chemers et al., (2000) and McCormick (2001), which linked self-efficacy with effective leadership utilizing the data collected from a variety of leadership samples. A high confidence level of the leader appears to have an effect on the confidence level of the follower thereby having a positive impact on organization wide constituency (Bohn, 2002). Moreover, their studies revealed that an individual’s confidence in their ability to lead or carry out a specific task in a team environment is more important than merely having a good self- image. McCormick (2001) suggests, effective leadership consists of a high-level of self- efficacy and is critical to the leadership process as it has a tremendous effect on motivation, leadership strategies, and goals. As such self-efficacy which exists in a leader may positively or negatively influence on followers, job satisfaction, performance level of employees as well as organizational outcomes (McCormick, 2001; Srivastava, Rajesh, Pelton & Strutton, 2001).


As previously mentioned, there has been debate among researchers in regard to general or a task specific self-efficacy (Smith, Kass, Rotunda & Schneider, 2006). Measurement instruments to determine levels of self-efficacy has developed over the last 20 years (Chen, Gully & Eden, 2001; Chen, Gully, Whiteman, & Kilcullen, 2000). Earlier instruments developed as a self-efficacy scale was designed to facilitate the task specific self-efficacy rather than general (Lucas, Wanberg, & Zytowski, 1997) seeking to operationalize a self-efficacy construct. The Kuder Task Self-Efficacy scale was constructed as a 30 item scale measuring a person’s self-efficacy for specific occupational tasks. Other similar instruments were developed earlier such as the Career Decision Making Self-Efficacy Scale (Taylor & Betz, 1983) and later the task specific Occupational Self-Efficacy Scale presented by Osipow and Temple (1996).

However, a prominent self-efficacy measurement instrument such as the self- efficacy scale (SGSE) was designed to measure the general dimension of self-efficacy consisting of a 17 item scale in which Chen et al., reported that the instrument had been used or cited in more than 200 published studies (Chen, 2001). Further Chen suggested that the self-efficacy scale did not sufficiently measure factors related to global self- esteem, although self-efficacy and self-esteem are conceptually distinct (Bandura, 1998). Chen developed a new General self-efficacy scale which is seen to be a unidimensional measurement instrument created to measure the General self-efficacy. Moreover since the development of the instrument there has been evidence that purports that the new General self-efficacy scale has a higher content validity and predictive validity compared with the self-efficacy scale. As noted by Woods (2004) the instrument is still in its infant stage and requires further research to determine whether the initial findings obtained by developers of this instrument holds true and generalize to other sample settings.


Based on the previous research, the literature reveals enough empirical evidence to suggest that self-efficacy may have a significant relationship to transformational leadership. Moreover, as seen in Hartsfield’s internal dynamics (2003) there was an indication that there was a positive correlation that existed between self-efficacy and the organizational leader. An effective leader who believes that they have the ability to bring about organizational change, effectively handle resistance and flourish in a dynamic environment. The literature indicates that leader self-efficacy affects the leader’s ability to determine the possibilities of success in an organization which is undergoing change. Further, a transformational leader will be faced with resisters, challenges, and strains which are prevalent in organizational transformation and change. It is suggested that a strong, positive level of self-efficacy evident in the organizational leader will produce a positive correlation between self-efficacy and organizational leadership.




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