Leadership Matters, But So Do Co-Workers: A Study of the Relative Importance of Transformational Leadership and Team Relations for Employee Outcomes and User Satisfaction

AuthorHeidi Hesselberg Lauritzen,Caroline Howard Grøn,Anne Mette Kjeldsen
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2022, Vol. 42(4) 614 –640
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X211011618
Leadership Matters, But So
Do Co-Workers: A Study of
the Relative Importance of
Transformational Leadership
and Team Relations for
Employee Outcomes and
User Satisfaction
Heidi Hesselberg Lauritzen1,2 ,
Caroline Howard Grøn3,
and Anne Mette Kjeldsen3
In recent decades, public administration has taken a great interest in leadership.
However, this interest has been met with concerns that the effects of leadership
are overestimated compared to other relevant organizational factors. In this
article, we explore the relative importance of formal, vertical leadership, specifically
transformational leadership, and horizontal relations, that is, the internal team
relations, for different employee outcomes and user satisfaction. We argue that
both factors may work through public service motivation (PSM). Based on survey
data collected in Danish nursing homes linked with a user satisfaction survey and
employee sickness absence data, we find that the internal team relations have the
strongest association with some outcome measures, whereas others are more
substantially related to vertical leadership. We further find that the relationship
between transformational leadership and these outcome measures is fully mediated
by PSM, whereas this is not the case with the internal team relations.
1University of Copenhagen, Denmark
2VIVE—The Danish Center for Social Science Research, Copenhagen, Denmark
3The Crown Prince Frederik Center for Public Leadership, Aarhus University, Denmark
Corresponding Author:
Heidi Hesselberg Lauritzen, VIVE—The Danish Center for Social Science Research, Herluf Trolles
Gade 11, 1052 Copenhagen K, Denmark.
Email: hhl@vive.dk
1011618ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X211011618Review of Public Personnel AdministrationLauritzen et al.
Lauritzen et al. 615
leadership, teams, job satisfaction, performance, public service motivation
Research on leadership in the public sector centers on illustrating the performance-
enhancing effects of leadership (Orazi et al., 2013; Van Wart, 2013). While a 2003
literature review by Van Wart documented a limited scholarly interest in leadership in
the public sector, in the years since, the tables have turned (Van Wart, 2013), and the
literature on leadership in a public sector context has exploded. In particular, transfor-
mational leadership, in which leaders develop, share, and sustain an organizational
vision to inspire and motivate followers to transcend their self-interest and achieve
organizational goals, has been thoroughly studied (Andersen et al., 2018; Bellé, 2014;
Vogel & Masal, 2015). While originating in the generic managerial literature (Bass,
1985; Bass & Riggo, 2006), this form of leadership has now been extensively studied
in a public sector context, where it has been found to enhance employee and organiza-
tional outcomes (Bellé, 2014; Jacobsen & Andersen, 2015).
However, this leader-centric approach has recently been put under critical scrutiny.
Some have argued there is a general romanticization of the impact of (individual) lead-
ership (Nielsen & Moynihan, 2017; drawing on classical studies within the manage-
ment literature, Hartley, 2018; Salancik & Meindl, 1984). Hence, some have taken up
an interest in collective forms of leadership such as distributed leadership (Harris, 2008;
Jakobsen et al., 2016), while others have pointed to the importance of team relations
(e.g., Carson et al., 2007) and the relationship between co-workers. Just as formal hier-
archical leadership has been shown to affect motivation and performance, the public
management literature has demonstrated how supportive team relations are important
to motivation (Anderfuhren-Biget et al., 2010; Vandenabeele et al., 2004). Still, little is
known about the potential benefits of horizontal relations as opposed to vertical ones in
improving the performance and well-being of individual public service providers and
ultimately of public organizations. Nevertheless, we do know that team-based forms of
organizations, sometimes described as “post-bureaucratic structures” (Groeneveld &
Kuipers, 2014), are becoming increasingly dominant in complex public organizations,
and this should call for our increased attention (van der Hoek et al., 2016).
Against this background, this article explores the relative importance of leaders,
specifically using the transformational leadership approach, and the experience of
working in supportive and well-functioning team relations for various important out-
come measures such as job satisfaction, intention to quit, self-perceived performance,
sickness absence, and user satisfaction. Thus, our study contributes to the public
management and human resource management (HRM) knowledge base with a com-
parison of vertical and horizontal relations in enhancing different outcome measures
in public organizations.
While both leadership and team relations are relational phenomena, the literature
often argues that they work through individual drivers such as motivation, in particular

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