What does the concept “substitutes for leadership” mean?

The ‘substitutes for leadership’ theory was developed by Steven Kerr and John M. Jermier in 1978. This theory proposes that there are some situational factors that substitute for leadership. The substitutes can be either situational or organizational. The situational and organizational factors include the cohesive work group, job structure and job design. The follower’s behaviours play an important role in substituting leadership. When followers have the training and ability to deal with the problems and maintain their activities under the policy in a healthy environment, it indicates that these followers requires less controlling and monitoring. The previous experiences of the followers also aid in creating substitutes like responsible working, respect and ethical consideration to substitute leadership. The little guidance and inspiration is needed when employees are well aware of their responsibilities and the reward system that motivates them to work effectively. The clarity of the objectives and the goals also helps employees play responsibly in the work organization. Cohesiveness requires less supervision when leadership is concerned because leadership needs to maintain control and alignment in activities (Dionne, Yammarino, Howell & Villa, 2005).


Dionne, S. D., Yammarino, F. J., Howell, J. P., & Villa, J. (2005). Substitutes for leadership, or not. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(1), 169-193.