Leeds Beckett University
CognitiveLeadershipRelationshipsBetweenTheCognitiveStyles-COVE-BURRELL.pdf (2.61 MB)

Cognitive Leadership: Relationships Between The Cognitive Styles And Leadership Styles Of Academic Leaders

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posted on 2022-12-06, 16:06 authored by Lisa Cove-Burrell

Effective leadership is particularly crucial in British Universities during a period in which the sector is facing a number of significant challenges, not least government policy changes and rising student consumerism. Playing a key role in the leadership process are academic leaders who are responsible for influencing and motivating their academic communities. It is the behaviour of these University academic leaders towards their followers, manifested in their leadership styles, which provides the focus for the study. More specifically, relationships between academic leaders’ leadership styles and the way in which they prefer to process information and solve problems, their cognitive styles, are evaluated. 

To that end, the investigation is set within the emerging research area of cognitive leadership and seeks to build on the findings of a small number of studies which have explored relationships between the cognitive style and leadership style constructs. None of these focussed on academic leadership in Universities however, and a knowledge gap is therefore evident. Furthermore, whilst the majority of these studies reported some significant associations between cognitive and leadership styles, their findings were not uniform. 

The empirical research involved academic leaders in two post-1992 UK Universities. A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was administered comprising two established instruments, chosen on the basis of their high validity and reliability, as reported in the literature. These were the Multi-factor Leadership Questionnaire, measuring transformational, transactional and passive-avoidant leadership, and the Cognitive Style Index, measuring analysis, intuition and, unlike previous studies, style flexibility. 

Results were analysed using SPSS and revealed that academic leaders with a flexible cognitive styles were more likely to demonstrate positive leadership behaviours towards followers than their more analytic and intuitive counterparts. The study therefore introduces a new perspective for cognitive leadership research, in that it asserts that cognitive versatility may contribute, not only to effective leadership task behaviours, but also to effective leadership social behaviours. 

As findings are based on the responses of academic leaders from two Universities, future research is recommended to validate the results, drawing on a larger sample of academic leaders, as well as potentially the perceptions of their followers. Nonetheless, the outcomes increase understanding of the leadership process and in practical terms, may be used to underpin improved strategies for academic leader development.


Qualification name

  • Professional Doctorate


Singleton, Paula ; Zhang, Crystal

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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