Leadership Studies Essay on Stayer’s Approach to Leadership Development

Stayer’s Approach to Leadership Development

Stayer’s article titled “How I learned to let my workers lead”, is important in the understanding of leadership development and the implementation of organizational change. Stayer’s approach recognizes the importance of leadership in the creation of a management style that makes people expect, want, or even demand responsibility in their work. His approach recognizes the importance of improving leader-follower relations through attitude change, effective communication, and involvement in decision-making. Most importantly, the approach sought to narrow the gap between potential and performance, which was mainly realized through participative decision-making and introduction of flexibility, which allowed the subordinates to perform a variety of tasks, rather than just limiting themselves within particular spheres. Furthermore, Stayer’s approach recognizes that the leadership development process should start with the leader. The leader should help followers understand the common goal, in which all their leadership development efforts will be directed. In the approach, leadership is developed best by making people responsible for their performance. This is illustrated by his decision to let the workers manage the quality of the sausages they prepared, rather than managers in the quality control department. This is illustrated by his statement that “On the theory that those who implement a decision and live with its consequences are the best people to make it, we changed our quality control system” (Stayer, 1990, p. 72). Finally, Stayer’s recognizes that building problem-solving capacities is important in leadership development. Therefore, he encouraged leadership development by expecting the workers to find solutions to their problems. Apart from making people responsible for their actions, it increased their creativity in problem-solving, thus improving their ability to address future challenges.

            Stayer’s approach has several strengths and weaknesses. Its greatest strength is that it seeks to transform the leader and the subordinates to enable them to realize their fullest potential. He therefore sought to reduce the gap between potential and performance amongst his workers by involving them in decision-making processes, where they improved their performance by enhancing the quality of sausages. Secondly, the approach recognizes the importance of attitudes in influencing leadership development. By inquiring about the worker’s perception of the company, he was able to understand that their low motivation and poor performance was due to their absence of responsibility in the company. Delegation of responsibility provided the workers with a sense of ownership, thereby increasing their commitment to the company, which resulted in improved performance. The most visible weakness in Stayer’s approach is the lack of clear guidelines in the decision-making process. For instance, he attempted to make the workers make their own decisions by staying silent in meetings to avoid giving them any clue about where he stood. This created confusion amongst workers, who eventually “flatly refused to commit themselves to any decisions at all” (Stayer, 1990, p. 80). Secondly, the approach lacks consistency, as it could not be developed through strategic and tactical planning. He believed that leadership development is influenced by daily realities, and could not be dictated from above or in advance.

            Leadership capacity in organizations can be developed through involvement of employees in decision-making. This can be achieved through delegation of responsibilities, where employees learn leadership skills through addressing challenging issues. Secondly, motivation encourages development of leadership through inspiration, which makes people believe in accomplishing things beyond their expectations. It can also be developed though organizing leadership training and development programs (Barner, 2011, p. 91). 

Stayer developed trusting partnership with his team by creating an open communication channel in which employees could share their dissatisfactions with the company. This was further enhanced through giving the team greater autonomy in decision-making, making them have a sense of ownership in the company. It achieved this by creating a career development track that enabled workers to earn recognition, status, and compensation based on their performance (Stayer, 1990, p. 83).  


Barner, R. (2011). Accelerating your development as a leader: A guide for leaders and their managers. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.         

Stayer, R. (1990). How I learned to let my workers lead. Harvard Business Review68(6), 66-83.