Leadership in today's complex context: a conversation with Professors Victor Dulewicz and Malcolm Higgs

Research has demonstrated that it is the fit between style and the context in which leaders are operating which determines overall leadership effectiveness and follower commitment. The LDQ works to identify leadership strengths and development areas taking into account this context and highlights an individual’s focus on Goal-oriented, Involving and Engaging Leadership styles fit, as well as identifying an individual’s results against the 15 traits of the identified leadership model. This tool, when used in the correct context with coaching and interpretation, can increase individual leaders’ self awareness and effectiveness to deal with changing organisational needs.


The increasingly volatile and complex nature of the current business environments has created a renewed interest in the assessment and development of leadership. To date, much of the research into leadership has provided organisations with views on ‘ideal’ leadership behaviours, however the reality of leading is that there is no one ideal or perfect leadership style. Acknowledging this reality, Getfeedback have been working with Professors Malcom Higgs from Hull University Business School and Victor Dulewicz from the Henley Business School to build on their extensive research into Emotional Intelligence and Leadership to create a tool which allows individuals leadership styles to be matched to the context in which they are operating, and in particular the nature and extent of the change being faced. Their research has shown that is the fit between the style of the leaders and the context in which they are operating which determines overall leadership effectiveness and follower commitment.

Professors Dulewicz and Higgs are among the country’s leading experts in the field of emotional intelligence (EI). In this article, Getfeedback talks to them about their thoughts on the most recent addition to the Getfeedback platform – the Leadership Dimensions Questionnaire (LDQ) and its relevance in today’s complex context.

Leadership Dimensions Questionnaire

The identification of the importance of context

The LDQ has its roots in the authors’ research into Emotional Intelligence which resulted in the publication of the Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (EIQ) in 2002. The work Professors Dulewicz and Higgs were doing around leadership and change suggested that different leadership approaches work in different contexts, depending on the amount of change an organisation is facing. This led to the idea of looking at leadership in context. Higgs and Dulewicz realised that the EIQ could be further developed into a questionnaire to measure the components of emotionally intelligent leadership; the result of which was the LDQ, with its three sections: EQ (Emotional and Social), IQ (Intellectual, Cognitive) and MQ (Managerial). The LDQ contains 15 dimensions of leadership and 3 different leadership profiles matched to different change contexts. The tool can be used for assessing managers’ and directors’ leadership potential and as an aid to personal development and will be available for self or 360-degree completion.

Can you tell us about the research led features of the LDQ?

Professor Dulewicz: The unique feature of the LDQ is its ability to relate profiles of the scores across the 15 dimensions to 3 different leadership styles and their relevance to the degree of organisational volatility. The relevance of each is dependent on the context within which leadership is exercised. To deal with context, we added a section in part II of the questionnaire to measure the degree of change that the organisation is facing. We concluded that there were 3 distinct leadership styles to be derived from different profiles of the 15 dimensions: Engaging Leadership (a style based on a high level of empowerment and involvement appropriate in a highly transformational context in which the organisation is facing radical change); Involving Leadership (a style that is based on a transitional context in which the organisational faces significant, built not radical changes to its business model or modus operandi); and Goal-Oriented Leadership (a style that is focused on delivering results within a relatively stable context). We linked that to organisational context and the score produced by the questionnaire on context, and concluded that a low score on context meant a steady state which would be relevant for a Goal-Orientated leadership style; a medium, but not radical change, was relevant for an Involving style and then the massive, rapidly changing organisation was appropriately linked to an Engaging leadership style.


Professor Higgs: The LDQ’s unique selling proposition is the facility to be able to identify the leadership style appropriate for the context of the organisation in which leadership is exercised, and in particular the nature and extent of the change being faced. As far as I’m aware, there are no other tools that do that. The other thing that’s unique about the LDQ is the fact that - whilst they include it - none of the more established leadership models, specifically address EI. The LDQ doesn’t suggest it’s all about EI, you certainly need IQ and MQ as well, but it’s a question of where in the organisation you need that very, very strong EI. What is interesting is, if you look at the three leadership styles, none of them have low EI – it’s just a question of the relative strength and significance of it.

Leadership Dimensions Questionnaire Quote 1

There are lots of detailed case studies you draw on in the LDQ manual but are there any specifically that stand out to you?

Professor Dulewicz: The study conducted in in the Royal Navy is my most memorable piece of research. Captain Dr Mike Young, who was Head of Leadership Development in the Royal Navy conducted his doctoral research using, inter alia the LDQ. Captain Dr Young developed a model clarifying the personal factors and behavioural competencies relevant to effective command, leadership and management in the Royal Navy, based primarily on his LDQ study conducted on a sample of 161 officers. The model received tremendous publicity in the national press and was the model on which the Royal Navy based its leadership selection and training. Various papers including ‘Similarities and Differences between Leadership and Management: High-Performance Competencies in the British Royal Navy’ published in the British Journal of Management in 2007 (Young and Dulewicz), show that the Emotional Intelligence dimensions of LDQ are the most important for differentiating between leaders and managers.

Professor Higgs: The one that stood out for me, that had the most traction for the organisation, was the study completed for a major multinational organisation. We assessed over 50 Managing Directors of the worldwide subsidiaries using the 360-degree version of the LDQ. We gave the participants feedback and follow up telephone coaching sessions over a 6-month period. What was really fascinating about that was the way they were engaged with the process – it really made a lot of sense to them. The 360-degree feedback process is very powerful.

Professor Higgs: On a much smaller scale I also used the LDQ with a government agency where it really highlighted some deep-rooted problems around staff morale and retention. The Chief Executive became interested in EI and on the back of a staff attitude survey, decided to look at the agency’s leadership. The LDQ was first used on a self-assessment basis and then on a 360-degree basis, which brought to light some large disparities in the self vs others scores. This led to some fairly major changes within the agency, not just in staff development but also shifting job designs and functions to make the most of people’s strengths.

Leadership Dimensions Questionnaire Quote 1

How does the LDQ tool support your findings in your book ‘Leading with Emotional Intelligence: Effective Change Implementation in Today’s Complex Context’?


Professor Higgs: The findings in the book largely cover our thoughts and background research on the tool. In a way, the chapter on Change Leadership endorses the LDQ model that we’ve developed. I suppose the latest thinking does take it more into the area of mindfulness – I’ve got some work which is coming out soon which looks at a form of mindfulness that helps change leaders adapt or develop skills but that’s at an early stage at the moment.


How do you think the LDQ relates to leadership in the current state of uncertainty, surrounding Brexit for example?

Professor Dulewicz: The EQ dimensions are particularly relevant in terms of Emotional and Social competencies, influencing and interpersonal sensitivity to name but two. Of course, there’s the IQ too - vision in particular. Regarding Brexit that’s the one thing that’s been sorely lacking since the referendum; a vision of what the country could look after Brexit in say 5-10 years’ time.

Professor Higgs: I always say, if you’re talking about political leadership, then you’re talking about a different kind of leadership. I think uncertainly is a key factor - it’s not just Brexit - if you look at why organisations are constantly struggling with leadership it’s because they’ve got to continuously change. For quite a while now, the business context has been very volatile but at the same time quite complex and ambiguous and leaders need the ability to deal with that. In leadership research in general, there is a definite shift away from the idea of ‘leader centric focus’ to a much more relational focus. It’s all about how leaders build relationships, engage and empower their teams. In a sense, of the 3 leadership styles in the LDQ, the one we call ‘Goal-Orientated’ is probably less and less relevant in today’s complex context. There can be situations where it is still relevant, for example, where certain parts of an organisation are relatively stable, in that they are exploiting existing technologies, capabilities and resources, rather than dealing with finding new things to do and new ways to use the skills and resources they’ve got. Nevertheless, of our 3 leadership styles, you tend to see more Involving and Engaging styles of leadership today - that seems to be the way organisations are dealing with uncertainty and complexity in today’s world. If you take change for example, it’s those organisations that are trying to impose change that are failing to achieve sustainable change.

Leadership Dimensions Questionnaire Quote 1

What do you think are the most important traits for current business leaders? How can leaders thrive and get the most from their people?

Professor Dulewicz: It comes back once again to different leadership styles. For fast changing contexts or markets you need an Engaging leadership style whereas a more bureaucratic, steady state organisation with steady markets will require a more Goal-Oriented style of leadership. The USP of the LDQ is that there is no ‘one style fits all’ style of leadership. Leadership style needs to be matched to the context in which leaders are operating.

Professor Higgs: I think if you go right back to core traits, then being open, having values that are more ethical and valuing individual contribution are really important. The evidence is pretty strong - if you look at what distinguishes successful from unsuccessful change leadership – it all seems to evolve around methods of involvement and participation.

What other areas are you currently exploring and where do you think things will progress from here?

Professor Dulewicz: Extensive further research into the LDQ is planned, including key areas which cover Cross-Cultural work; Context and Climate. To date, most of the research into leadership has been conducted in Western cultures, especially the US and the UK. We are looking to extend applications of LDQ into Asia and Africa to discover if there are significant differences in the results obtained. Regarding context, ratings are gathered in Part II of the LDQ. It is planned to gather independent perceptions of the context, from followers or independent panels of senior managers, to see to what extent evaluations of context are similar or if there are significant variations which need to be taken into account when identifying the appropriate leadership style. And finally, with Dr Nuno da Camara, we have produced a new organisational climate questionnaire to evaluate the emotional intelligence climate and the extent to which it encourages or inhibits emotionally intelligent behaviours (da Camara, Dulewicz and Higgs, 2015). A second questionnaire measuring other aspects of climate covering the IQ and MQ dimensions is planned. These two questionnaires will enable us to test the extent to which organisational climate influences leadership performance and styles.

Professor Higgs: I’m working more in depth on developing change leadership capability. It’s on the EI side and is a combination of self-awareness and system awareness; seeing what’s happening in a specific situation as part of a wider organisation complex system, combined with being open to your own experiences and acknowledging them. I’m reluctant to use the word ‘mindfulness’ as it’s been so abused. It’s the exact opposite to the dark side, which is other area I’m also looking at narcissism and psychopathy in leaders. It’s really fascinating how this type of leader gets to the top of an organisation. It seems that they have the ability to portray absolute confidence and certainty and it still amazes me that boards select people like that as CEOs, when in reality life is so complex and ambiguous. The idea of having a 5-year strategy - ‘this is my vision and that’s where we’re going’ – may be popular but the world just isn’t like that anymore. There are some organisations that have woken up to that and do invest quite heavily in trying to develop the next generation of leaders who are able to cope with that complex context, using a more involving, engaging and relational approach to leadership.


For more information

For more information on the Leadership Dimensions Questionnaire, please contact the Getfeedback team on info@getfeedback.net or ++ (0)3330 902 580.


About the Authors

Professor Victor Dulewicz is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, a fellow of both the British Psychological Society and the Institute of Personnel and Development, and a member of the Institute of Directors. He has worked at Henley Business School since 1986 and is currently Emeritus Professor, supervising numerous doctoral students and conducting research into personality, team roles, emotional intelligence, leadership and management assessment and development.

Malcolm Higgs is Professor of Organization Behavior and HRM at Hull University Business School Prior to joining Hull he was the head of the HRM and OB department in Southampton University Business school, having previously been the Head of the School. Before joining Southampton, Malcolm held posts at Henley Business School including: Academic Dean, Director of the Leadership Group and Research Director. Prior to moving into the academic world Malcolm had a successful career in business and consulting, concluding with 8 years as an international partner with Towers Perrin. He has published a number of books and over 150 academic journal papers on topics related to Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, Change Management and Team Behavior and is co-author of psychometric tests relating to Emotional Intelligence and Leadership. Malcolm is a Chartered Psychologist and continues to undertake consulting assignments with national and international organisations as well as his academic roles.