Open Journal of Leadership
2012. Vol.1, No.3, 13-16
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 13
Retail Managers: Laissez-Faire Leadership Is Synonymous with
Unsuccessful Conflict Management Styles
Etta C. Gray1, James Arthur Williams2
1University of Phoenix, Phoenix, USA
2James Madison Unive rsity, Harrisonburg, USA
Email:, will22
Received July 9th, 2012; revised August 12th, 2012; accepted August 21st, 2012
Retail managers were examined to determine their leadership styles and any potential correlations to con-
flict management styles. Research findings suggest that successful retail managers exhibit transforma-
tional leadership styles, and those that exhibit laissez-faire leadership is strongly correlated with avoid-
ance conflict management style. The Conflict Management Style (CMS) and Multi Leadership Question-
naire (MLQ) instruments were used to survey participants in this study. A MLQ scoring manual was used
to identify leadership styles, and a CMS scoring manual was used to determine conflict management
styles. Pearson correlation (SPSS, version 17.0) was used to correlate between MLQ and CMS findings.
Keywords: Transformational Leadership; Conflict Management; Retail Managers; MLQ; Avoidance
Conflict Management
Conflict has a profound effect on leaders attempting to lead
within complex and convoluted work environments, but suc-
cessful leaders embrace conflict to create inspirational leader-
ship styles in these challenging situations (Runde & Flanagan,
2008). Some conflicts that might occur in the retail work envi-
ronment can stem from opposing management perspectives,
turnover, and fractured work relationships. Leaders in the retail
industry may change the conflict culture of their organizations
through recognizing behavioral patterns of employees. Accord-
ing to Runde and Flanagan (2008), managers can change con-
flict culture by aligning constructive conflict responses to the
organization’s vision, policies, and performance measures.
Effective leadership styles are essential to the success of intri-
cate organizations (Latham & Vinyard, 2004).
Improperly or poorly, managing conflicts in retail work en-
vironments can create financial losses that impede the progres-
sion of productive retail entities (Kanchier, 2005). According to
Katz (2006), unresolved conflict has become an unrecognizing
cost factor in many organizations. Multiple conflicts shift the
strategic planning from production and employee performance
to combating potential contingencies among internal relation-
ships (Sherman, 2009). Korkmaz (2007) indicated that manag-
ers could resolve internal conflict when those managers under-
stood the concerns of their employees. An examination of lead-
ership styles and how to resolve conflict in small retail busi-
nesses is pertinent to improving work environments because
leaders must know when and how to take action (Danley, 2006).
Managing conflict is an opportunity for organizations to expand
the contextual aspects of conflict while decreasing the conse-
quences (Bruk-Lee, 2007).
Conflict is characterized as a difference among two or more
individuals, involving no bonding to create tension, disagree-
ment, emotion, or polarization (Korkmaz, 2007). Assessing
numerous research studies pertaining to managing conflict,
there are a few research studies that focus on correlation be-
tween leadership styles and conflict management styles in the
retail environment. This research study aims to investigate re-
tail managers’ effective leadership styles and any correlations
to effectual conflict management styles. The results can present
patterns of leadership behaviors needed to combat present and
future issues that might impede the progression of complex
retail work environments.
Literature Review
Leadership is essential to the development and maturation of
diversified workforce populations (Latham & Vinyard, 2004).
Effective leadership is in demand for retail organizations in a
competitive, fast-moving environment (Sheard & Kakabadse,
2002). To be effective, leaders must display consistent core
beliefs and behaviors; yet at the same time simultaneously
adopt his or her style to mesh with the culture of their organiza-
tion (Sheard & Kakabadse, 2002). Effective leadership is used
to manage organization’s goals and objectives (Tubbs & Schulz,
2006). Successful leaders used a transformational leadership
style to motivate and inspire constituents to align their behav-
iors and actions to accomplish organizational goals and objec-
tives (Ackoff, 1999).
Transformational leadership sets the standard level of human
interaction between the leader and follower. This can be ac-
complished by the relationship the leader develops with fol-
lowers wanting to exceed to the next level; therefore creating a
new era of leaders (Banerji & Krishnan, 2000). Transforma-
tional leadership is the ability of a leader to build trust, loyalty,
and admiration in followers, and express his or her individual
interests to the entire group (Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, &
Van Engen, 2003). Managing conflict may come easy to trans-
formational leaders, the leadership style is a behavior process
comprised charisma, intellectual stimulation, and individualized
consideration (Bass & Avolio, 2004). Conflict not effectively
managed and resolved, reflects a leader’s lack ability to build
strong relationships with followers that affect team morale and
satisfaction (Newman & Grigg, 2008).
Compromise conflict management is used to generate will-
ingness between both parties to relinquish some control or
power for the benefit of the organization (Bruk-Lee, 2007). The
retail industry presents new conflicts in the form of diversified
cultures and ethnic groups, poorly trained workforce, and a
fluctuating economy that impacts retail sales (Reynolds, How-
ard, Cuthbertson, & Hristov, 2007; Hinckley, 2009). Compro-
mise conflict resolution strategies are necessary to turn a com-
pany around or to resolve issues about an employee’s role
(Goyal, Maruping, & Robert, 2008; Hinckley, 2009). Trans-
formational leaders have the charisma and interpersonal skills
needed to incite followers to compromise on conflict resolution
tactics (Bass & Avolio, 2004; Bruk-Lee, 2007).
Laissez-Faire leadership is considered as an ineffective style
when applied to conflict management situations (Bass &
Avolio, 2004; Bruk-Lee, 2007). Managers used an avoidance
conflict management style to evade challenging issues within
their retail work environment (Newman & Grigg, 2008). Some
researchers might view laissez-faire leaders to display leader-
ship skills that attract an avoidance conflict management style.
Today’s retail leaders are expected to use effective leadership
strategies to mediate and facilitate conflicts that impact the
internal work environment (Newman & Grigg, 2008). When
retail organizations choose a conflict resolution strategy, such
as compromise conflict management, leaders must make sure
that the right strategies are chosen and beneficial to all vested
parties (Goyal, Maruping, & Robert, 2008). The present study
addresses the following research questions:
Do successful retail managers exhibit a leadership style that
promotes collaborative work efforts?
Does the advantageous leadership style correlate with a
collaborative conflict management style?
Does poor leadership correlate with ineffective conflict
management styles?
The instruments used for this study were MLQ and CMS;
MLQ was used to test retail managers’ leadership styles, and
CMS was used to test their conflict management resolution
style. Researcher obtained permission to use both instruments
for the sole purpose of this research study. MLQ is one of the
most validated and reliable instruments used to test managers’
leadership styles (Bass & Avoilo, 2004). The MLQ is a com-
prehensive survey that is composed of 45-items, and uses a
Likert-type scale to determine the transformational, transac-
tional, and laissez-faire leadership styles (Bass & Avolio, 2004).
There are 12 leadership style scales: idealized influence (attrib-
uted), idealized influence (behavior), inspirational motivation,
intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration; contin-
gent reward, management-by-exception (active), management-
by-exception (passive), laissez-faire leadership, extra effort,
effectiveness, and satisfaction.
The CMS instrument provided information about an indi-
vidual’s approach to managing conflict. The survey data as-
sisted individuals with an understanding of behaviors in con-
flicting situations. Conflicts that occur in interpersonal, group,
and intergroup settings were addressed in the grid format, pro-
viding a five-fold conflict management profile. An effective
tool to identify outcomes of conflict is the CMS (Teleometrics,
2007). Retail companies in the Louisville, Kentucky demo-
graphic area were randomly selected. Participants who partici-
pated in this study consisted of retail managers and employees
in Louisville, Kentucky. Respondents were asked to assess the
leadership styles (MLQ) and conflict management styles (CMS)
of successful retail managers in their organizati on.
For this study purpose, results from the two instruments can
be used to determine leadership styles and conflict management
styles used among successful retail managers. Respondents
volunteered and signed a consent form to participate in this
research study. Data were collected and analyzed by the re-
searcher and with the assistance of SPSS (17.0). Descriptive
and a Pearson Correlation analysis were used to present the
research findings.
Data Collection
The CMS and MLQ survey instruments were paper-and-pencil
self-administered surveys that were mailed to participating
organizations in Louisville, KY. Within each packet were in-
structions for the executive manager to distribute the sealed
survey envelopes that were labeled manager and employee, to
the participating managers and employees. The packets con-
tained the researchers contact information, demographic ques-
tionnaire, instructions for completing and returning the surveys,
and a stamped envelope with the researchers mailing address to
return the completed surveys. Two follow-up phone calls were
made to the participating retail establishments within two-week
intervals: two weeks after acknowledgement of receiving the
packets and a final call was made two weeks later.
The profile of respondents provides an insight into the poten-
tial benefit of transformational leadership combined with com-
promise conflict management. There was a small paucity of
respondents (32) used for this research compared to the targeted
number of respondents (100), to indicate a 32% response rate.
Only usable surveys were statistically analyzed, and surveys
were deemed unusable from incompleteness or failure to mail
back to the researcher. According to Creswell (2002), mailed
surveys have a low-response rate, and it may have impacted the
response rate of this research study. The sample population
consisted of 56.3% male and 43.8% female, so the sample
population was fairly balanced for this study in Table 1. The
most common age categories were 22 to 25 (21.9%) and 31 to
40 (21.9%), and only 9.4% of the respondents were over 50
years of age at the time of this study.
The results also indicated that respondents were most likely
to have a high school diploma or GED (31.3%) followed by
some college (28.1%). Respondents were not likely to have an
advanced degree with only two people (6.3%) having a mas-
ter’s degree; both were managers. Table 1 indicated that re-
spondents were most likely to be Caucasian (46.9%) followed
by African American (43.8%). Only two participants were
Hispanic (6.3%), none were Asian or Native American, and one
person identified himself as other (3.1%). The findings indi-
cated 37.5% of the sample identified themselves as managers
while 62.5% of the sample identified themselves as sales asso-
Table 2 provides the descriptive statistics for the three lead-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ership sub-scales leadership within MLQ. The conflict man-
agement raw scores were converted to T scores as instructed in
the CMS manual. The range of possible T scores and the me-
dian score for each of the five subscales are based on what was
found in the current sample and what the normative sample for
this instrument is scored. The results are presented in Table 3.
The results indicate that on average, the managers were rated
slightly above the median T score for collaboration (43.00),
below the median T score for compromise (45.31), above the
median T score for accommodation (56.25), above the median
T score for authoritarian controlling (53.81), and above the
median T score for avoidance (57.59). The minimums, maxi-
mums and the standard deviations indicated there was a rela-
tively large amount of variability in the scores. The findings
appear to be skewed due to the large standard deviations and
outliers that are impacting the scores mean. The Pearson corre-
lation results provided in Table 4 indicated that collaboration
conflict management scores were negatively and statistically
significantly correlated with transactional leadership scores, r =
–0.368(31), p < 0.05, in higher transactional leadership scores
are moderately associated with lower collaboration conflict
management scores.
Table 1.
Respondents characteristics table.
Gender Frequency Percent
Male 18 56.3
Female 14 43.8
Age Frequency Percent
18 - 21 6 18.8
22 - 25 7 21.9
26 - 30 4 12.5
31 - 40 7 21.9
41 - 50 5 15.6
51 - 60 2 6.3
61 plus 1 3.1
Education Frequency Percent
Less than high school 2 6.3
High school diploma (GE) 10 31.3
Some college 9 28.1
Associate s degree 4 12.5
Bachel o r’s d egree 5 15.6
Master’s degree 2 6.3
Doctoral de gree 0 0.0
Professional degree 0 0.0
Race Frequency Percent
Caucasian 15 46.9
African American 14 43.8
Hispanic 2 6.3
Asian 0 0.0
Native American 0 0.0
Other 1 3.1
Job title Frequency Percent
Manager 12 37.5
Sales assoc i ate 20 62.5
Table 2.
Means and standard deviations for the leadership subscale scores.
Source Minimum Maximum MeanSD
Transformational leadership1.10 4.00 3.02 0.74
Transactional leadership 1.13 4.00 2.83 0.70
Laissez faire leadership 0.00 4.00 1.38 1.34
Table 3.
Means and standard deviations for the conflict management subscale T
Source Minimum Maximum MeanSD
Collaboration 27 75 43.0010.85
Compromise 30 67 45.319.09
Accommodation 39 67 56.257.37
Authoritarian controlling 44 70 53.817. 1 4
Avoidance 30 71 57.5910.30
Table 4.
Pearson correlation results: leade rship and conflict management.
Source Transformational Transactional Laissez faire
Collaboration –0.192 –0.368* –0.591**
Compromise –0.123 –0.201 –0.217
Accommodation –0.134 –0.153 0.038
controlling 0.139 0.223 0.201
Avoidance –0.078 0.165 0.453**
*p < .05. **p < .01.
Discussion and Conclusion
Effective leadership qualities are beneficial in today’s com-
plex and diverse retail organizations because today’s retail or-
ganizations are facing conflicts that arise from personnel, cus-
tomers, and competing retail entities (Assegid, 2009). Trans-
formational leadership has proven to be an effective leadership
style among retail managers and employees surveyed for this
study. However, transformational leadership was not shown to
correlate with effective conflict management styles among
respondents, but a larger sample pool could yield more statisti-
cal sound findings that correlate with successful conflict man-
agement resolutions. There was a significant positive relation-
ship of retail managers’ laissez faire leadership style and
avoidance conflict management style. The data from the Pear-
son correlation analysis revealed that the laissez-faire leader-
ship style had a strong influence on employees for avoiding
Laissez-faire and avoidance conflict management appears to
be the trend among retail managers, and this leadership and
conflict management style combination can prove detrimental
to retail organizations. Avoidance can create a culture that is
resistant to change, and resistance to change can impede the
decision-making tactics and strategic plans ineffective in a
complex retail organizations (Graham, 2006). According to the
research study correlational results, majority of the retail man-
agers choose a laissez-faire style when resolving conflict inter-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 15
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
nal and external conflicts. However, retail human resource
managers are seeking managers who provide guidance, en-
courage employees to take ownership of issues and solve prob-
lems, and to think critically before resolving solutions
(McGrane, Wilson, & Cammock, 2005).
When leaders fail to act proactively to resolve conflicts, it
can create a work atmosphere that is reluctant to change and
fosters internal conflicts (Hinckley, 2009). Based on the con-
tinuous research of leadership, transformational seems to be the
most effective leadership style when resolving conflict. In the
retail industry, leaders must equip themselves with skills and
knowledge to manage conflict effectively (Bennett, 2009). The
current findings suggest that most successful retail leaders ex-
hibit transformational leadership traits, but they fail to incorpo-
rate those skills when attempting to manage conflicts. The cur-
rent findings presented failed to fully support previous research
findings, and it could be due to the small sample size; a larger
sample size should be used to build on these research results.
The results can be applied in retailing industry by imple-
menting training programs that inspire retail managers to de-
velop and use transformational leadership skills when manag-
ing turnover or conflicts among co-workers. This approach can
be used to improve the high turnover in the retail industry and
conflict deriving from low-morale in this complex industry.
Training programs that teach managers to be proactive can help
to dispel a laissez-faire leadership style among retail managers.
Academia can use the results by emphasizing the importance of
proactively addressing issues rather than relying on avoidance
techniques. Academia can implement group assignments and
projects that force students to proactively resolve daily issues in
the retail industry. Case studies can also be used in senior-level
courses to promote effective leadership styles and successful
conflict management styles.
Future studies can be used to explore why transformational
leaders regress to an avoidance conflict management style when
attempting to resolve conflicts. Another future recommendation
is to examine male managers versus female managers and the
differences of leadership styles when managing conflict. A
larger sample size should be used to strengthen the research
findings of this study. Future studies can also be used to exam-
ine the leadership and conflict management traits among spe-
cific age groups. For example, more and more young managers
are entering the career field, and those individuals are expected
to manage potential contingencies on a daily basis.
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