Abundance and Scarcity Models in Leaders – 2009

Laura Freebairn-Smith

A dissertation presented to the Faculty of Saybrook University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Organizational Systems
by Laura Freebairn-Smith

Some leaders create more energy, joy, productivity, and dedication in their subordinates than others. About these bosses, subordinates consistently say things like, “I loved working for her.” Leadership research has tried to explain this phenomenon but no model has adequately encompassed the range of leader behaviors expressed by subordinates nor do the models examine the mental models that drive those behaviors. This dissertation was a mixed-methods study which developed an instrument and model for determining where in a spectrum of abundance and scarcity mental models a leader operates. The study examined the effect of a leader’s mental model on the perceived health of their organization.

The results revealed that bosses with an abundance mental model – seeing the world as resource sufficient and power as shareable – are preferred over scarcity bosses. The subordinates of these bosses saw their organizations as healthier. Their organizations do better at conflict resolution, communication, and teamwork. However, too much abundance can be detrimental by dispersing energy and misplacing optimism.

Scarcity leaders work from fear and control. They often struggle with communication and have trouble delegating. They decrease energy instead of increasing it. Scarcity bosses are difficult to work for and negatively impact their organization’s perceived health. The research showed that scarcity and abundance behaviors are more subtle than an on/off switch. Bosses fall along a spectrum and all behaviors must be examined to understand the abundance-scarcity mental model of a leader. This study created a new broader model for understanding effective leadership and its impact on the health of organizations.

Read the full dissertation here