The business theorists Kerr and Jermier proposed the substitutes for leadership theory, which suggests that certain factors can neutralize or replace a manager's decisions. A leadership neutralizer is a factor that prevents a manager from taking actions to improve work performance, or makes the actions that the manager does perform irrelevant. Some leadership neutralizers are part of the normal work environment and are difficult to change, and managers can remove other types of leadership neutralizers.
Distance work is a leadership neutralizer. It is easier for a manager to direct employees when the manager and the employees work at the same location. In telecommuting jobs, this factor is part of the job environment. A manager can reduce the neutralizing effect of distance work by using technology, such as telephone calls, email and teleconferences, to stay in contact with employees.
Other individual traits can neutralize leadership. A manager may have a different nationality than an employee, or practice another religion, making it harder for the manager to relate to the employee. The manager may also have different career goals than her employees. An employee may be used to having a manager with a large degree of authority and may not respect a manager who cannot punish or reward workers.
Work experience and a professional orientation can neutralize leadership. An experienced lawyer or accountant can perform work tasks with little direction from the manager. The worker may also be interested in professional recognition and rewards, instead of receiving awards from the company.
Employee compensation and benefits can neutralize leadership. A manager may have the option to give an employee a raise or a bonus as a reward for good work performance. If the company does not let the manager increase a worker's pay, because pay rates are assigned based on seniority or the company is under economic pressure, this removes one of the manager's motivational tools.
Workplace rules can also neutralize leadership. A highly formal workplace that establishes instructions for each task does not allow the manager to give new directions that improve employees' performance. It might not be possible to increase an employee's work speed because other steps in a process have to be followed first, especially in a mechanized environment such as a factory.
The relationship among employees can also neutralize leadership. If a group of employees works together on many projects, they will become used to asking each other for directions, instead of the manager. A new manager will not have a strong bond with these employees when he starts out. The manager may be able to establish a bond by hosting events, such as lunches, with the employees.
Eric Novinson has written articles on Daily Kos, his own blog and various other websites since 2006. He holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Humboldt State University.