Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Milgram Redux

Here is an article about the most recent replication of the Milgram experiments

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Educational leaders required: Blending envisioning with humility

Picture retrieved from:

I have to admit that I have been very resistant to political issues and specially politicians’ behavior since I remember. It has been hard to understand how our supposedly servant leaders have tended to pave the way to their own benefit and profit rather than to introduce real education politics that can be at the basis of mending our fragmented society. Our last three Presidents, including the governing one, have been involved in bribery scandals and trial. I have the impression that Greenleaf (1977) himself will find them as perfect examples when the act of lead precedes any kind of act of service.

Consequently, I have been trying to approach to this issue working in the education sector. I have been consistently interested in how different actors interact and build social relationships, and how they handle power relationships. Schools were appealing institutions to observe that. Although the relationships between teachers and the directive team implied tension, I could observe that when the school’s principal assume his or her role in a collaborative approach, he or she was planting the seed of trust to introduce change (Packard, 1998; Nadler, 1990). But when principals assumed that schools were hard to manage due to the continuous conflicts among teachers, they deny their responsibility to intervene.

Pedagogical change was the result of an individual or small group effort in the class setting. But when looking for innovations in the school’s management, the school’s principal was a key piece to generate a shared sense of accomplishment and an optimal climate to work. But he or she will rarely affirm that it was his or her contribution what made things happened, instead the principal will refer the results to everybody’s contribution and commitment with the school and, especially, with enhancing students’ performance (Collins, 2005).

Afterward I worked at a university. It was like a tangled network that was far from the more sophisticated school organization I have ever met and looked very different from the memory I had about it when I was a student and, later on, a teacher assistant. I realized that there was not anything that can be called “the university” – as I used to call it in my former years of student -, there were a multiplicity of universities, determined by who was talking, that is, a teacher or a student, an undergraduate or a graduate student, a syndicated employee or a non-syndicated one, etc. However, this is the place were social capital is reinforced through the efforts of academia, as Brian Heuser (2000) states in his article Academic social cohesion within higher education.

I worked very close to many academics in order to assist them to develop their annual plans. The different departments I worked with were challenging and each one them reclaimed that the university was reluctant to recognize their specific needs about human and financial resources.

When new deans of schools and chairs of departments were elected each three years, the new academic authorities assumed those positions being aware of the implications, even the ones that assume this sort of academic-administrative function. Nonetheless they intended to continue and/or introduce different perspectives about how the academia can do their job better aligned with the institutional goals, I can observe that their qualified reputation as brilliant scholars and professors made this process tough the first two years and then they are almost ready to leave. Surely their perspective about the university has changed but sometimes their energy to face the challenges has also diminished due to a recharged administrative labor with scarce time to think big about their school, department or even the university (Sashkin, 1989).

So I wonder if this situation is probably related to the academic culture related to the cultivation of strong self-images, based on the knowledge acquired and expressed by academic degrees, publications in indexed journal, grants or funds received, and so on. Therefore I wonder if this kind of culture is not dangerous not only for the university’s process of authorities’ succession within universities but also I am worried about the implications in the relationship with the students. 

I do not intend to say that academic culture damages the ethics of younger students, when stimulated to be competitive, self-centered and base their achievements in the academic arena. But I have the feeling that this can be a sort of hidden curriculum with pervasive effects when this former students become active part of the civil society being enrolled in different job positions but due to their focus in their egos, reserve very little time to think big, to identify ways to commit with social change and with improving the education in our country. I am really concerned if this way or being focused on oneself and give little time to think about the organizations we are part of is also at the basis of our permissive behavior about the representatives that lead our country and systematically make it more fragile.

Rise of Followership: Product of an Empowering Leadership

I wrote this post back in October before James and I decided to name our Leadership model as Empowerment. I forgot about this post after composing it, but it did subconsciously spark many ideas for our model...

Since our class discussion on the topic of followership, I have been fascinating by the potential seen in the rise of "the masses," the increase in agency followers have garnered over the last half-century, and some leaders' respect for individuals working in their enterprises. The previous theories of leadership had not attended to the individuals whose roles were to solely execute orders that were delegated from upper levels of "management." The central focus of written texts remained on the main figurehead of the institution, who was commonly praised for his strong personal mastery, charisma, sharp functioning, and ability to reap a high profitability from lower-level workers.

The proposal of followership is freshly appealing because followers are observed and treated more as individuals along the principals of "Theory Y", by McGregor. No longer is the treatment of followers formulated from a pessimistic view that employees are lazy, passive, and disagreeable. The follower, once overshadowed by daunting CEOs became more prominent as some institutions became aware of the power of team work, and reaped powerful results when they allowed workers with practical experience to hold some authority and control over their positions. A removal of some of the leader's authority placed onto her followers vastly changes the leader's outlook of herself, the followers, and the enterprise; and the transformation from an authoritarian approach to a follwership approach requires the leader to limit her exercise on positional power and gravitate towards a respectful relationship with her team.

Followership is a twist in the traditional bureaucracy of how most institutions perceive leadership and casts previously unheard of attention to subordinates in organizational hierarchies, which now are termed "participants," or individuals who are active and engage with the leader to work towards a common cause. It departs from the traditional dominant-subordinate model which is still pervasive in global cultures, in families, gender differences, sexual orientation, and the workplace.

Kelley's "In Praise of Followers", presents the notion that what defines a group of competent followers is no longer a passive obedience, but a "self-reliant participation...in the pursuit of an organizational goal...serv[ing] as team players" (195). This type of follower relies on the skills she internally possesses, even her own leadership skills to further the organization, but even as she is confident and adept, she chooses to take up the position as a follower because it is valued and a vital role to the group. What may come as a surprise to leaders who establish authority in themselves is, that the follower who is placed in the ideal environment can accomplish what leaders cannot. He or she is not bound to conforming to the lowest rung of the hierarchical structure; that is, potential and capability does not wane in the presence of an executive or upper management. Followers who take on an active role in assisting the team towards its goal should be given credit where it is due. Those who have successfully implemented the idea of followership into their leadership models reap the benefits of a thriving, healthy organization.

This notion of followership alters the dynamics of conventional leadership, and Rost's article, "Leaders and Followers Are the People in This Relationship" states that followers and leaders work together in interchangeable roles when it is necessary. Furthermore, "this ability to change places without changing organizational positions gives followers considerable influence and mobility" (192), a quality the traditional leader may not have acquired in his genre of experience. Rost proposes a change in the meaning of "followers," that they are as versatile as being a leader in one situation, as to assuming a follower role in the next project. They are no less competent than the leader, but also demonstrate the ability to work effectively in teams, without the glory and title as leader.

Finally, the leader herself must come to reshape her position, authority, and how she perceives her group members. The relationship represents a symbiotic one, with both the leader and follower relying on each other for survival in competing organizations. She must be the one who draws out the qualities of an active mind, and should go as far as personal understanding of each person according to his or her interests, level of development, and ability contribute to the group. She seeks to encourage advisers among the team rather than yes-men, and halts the behavior fawning subordinates that are quick to obey and execute the plan laid out for them.

But there's more to followership than we first see. The concept itself does not necessarily advocate for the absence of a leadership position, but rather, is contingent upon the leader's initiative to develop this process for his institution. He is the one whom others look to for the atmosphere and tone of the group. It is his advantage to design an environment which facilitates learning and equal collaboration, and seeks to encourage individual involvement. He is a figurehead, but specifically one who can foster this type of followership characteristic on his team. Moreover, he attempts to prolong the life and strengthen members of the organization by allowing followers to gather practical experience in leading smaller groups. This is derived from a leader who acts as a mediator, facilitator, and empowerer, but someone who does not overpower. He must have something to impart initially, then must provide the geographical and intellectual space for followers to gain experience for learning. Thus the process of reciprocity is etched out, as followers gain knowledge to participate and work alongside the leader.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Parents as Leaders

When the last group presented their leader as gardener model, I was taken. Of course since we had a tree in our empowerment ecosystem, I drew parallels, but there was also something about the nurturing, anonymous service of the gardener that felt familiar. The same group also made reference, I believe, to the idea that leaders are not just situated in organizations, but may be in families. This has stuck with me. Of course, its true, parents are leaders. Older siblings are leaders too. As I have been writing about our integrative model, at times my mind has drawn connections to the kinds of leadership I have experienced through family. Maybe it is the oncoming holiday season and my upcoming anniversary that have taken my thoughts there, but there is something more too, a recognition that our life experiences teach us some pretty essential conceptions about leadership. I bet, perhaps, through examining what my exposure has been I will also see why I have certain biases, preferences about what leadership should look like.

The themes in my family have been leadership as service and teaching. Greenleaf, Depree and Senge would see their ideas in the flesh in the home I grew up in. Service has always come first in the Nardella family. My father has worked with at risk youth as a school counselor for forty years. Thirty of those years, throughout all my childhood, adolescence, and college years, he was the head counselor at a center for incarcerated youth, what were called juvenile delinquents at the time. Each morning he gently woke my sister and I, served us breakfast, packed our lunches, dropped us off at school, and drove the forty-five minute commute to work. He made no complaints about the drive because the schools near his center were not nearly as good as the schools where we lived. Service was modeled daily, even though I only can consciously recognize it now. It is no surprise, however, that my older sister is a licensed marriage family therapist who spent the first ten years of her career counseling at risk youth and now directs a treatment program for teenage and young adult women in San Diego. Nor is it odd, given this experience, that I married a woman who has given her life to serving African communities in need of clean water and care for HIV and AIDS. Servant leadership has been the clear model in our new family too. I have learned to value those who “are challenging the pervasive injustice with greater force” (Greenleaf, 1977, pg. 20)

Both of my parents could be described as “less coercive, more creatively supportive” as Greenleaf puts it. My mom, like many, made it a mission to encourage my sister and me in whatever hobbies took our interest. We were given space to be curious, creative, and adventuresome. Days after school were spent playing team sports, swimming in the creek by our house, or building igloos in the Pennsylvania snow, all of it exploratory, experiential learning. Though we were not wealthy, what was available went to paying for the few years of dance lessons, and then instrument lessons, then karate, then horse back riding, a real smorgasbord of creative activities. There were not consequences for trying new things and giving them up. We only had to stick out the season. In the way Depree describes it, we felt like we had the trust of our leaders which gave us the grace we needed to try new things and operate in a creative world. Still we had time for directed learning as well.

In the way of Senge’s conception, our family was a learning organization. Our natural curiosity and impulse to learn were actively cultivated. Each evening after dinner, whether we had homework or not, my father facilitated a “homework hour”. During our elementary school years, when actual homework was nominal, this time often consisted of homegrown interactive exercises. My dad would create rhyming pairs or multiplication flash cards, handing us the question cards and hide the answer cards about the house. We would scavenge our way through learning. It was not performance based; we did not need to be excellent academics to earn our parents’ approval. Our parents were more stewards or facilitators, designing activities to foster growth, strategic thinking, and more insightful views of our current reality (Senge, 1990).

Our parents were not authoritarian experts teaching us the right way. They were there to encourage, just as the gardener cares for the sapling, and rarely criticize. It is no wonder that I am now creating a model that argues for leaders to make room for critical thinking, creativity, and curiosity.

Leadership Development Programs in Higher Education

If you are looking for a job after graduation, you may (under more normal economic conditions) wish to consider Leadership Development Coordinator positions if you are planning to work in higher education. Much the way many industries have recently fallen in love with leadership development, so have colleges and universities throughout the country. Massive amounts of money are being poured into leadership development initiatives but the unfortunate aspect is that these programs are often flawed and misleading in their name. Schools around the country are hosting programs for current presidents and other top leaders of campus organizations with many of the objectives being to teach the students campus policies, help these various leaders meet other leaders on campus so as to facilitate cooperation in the future, and allow for goal-setting for the upcoming year or semester. While such a program is certainly valuable to the campus community, the only thing relevant to leadership development is goal-setting and eve n that is a stretch. Then to compound the issue, the feedback on these sessions usually comes in the form of a survey distributed at the end of the event or made available online to measure how satisfied the attendee was with the program they just experienced.
The interesting part about the leadership development programs is that they fail to actually educate the students on leadership, particularly the core elements described by Ordway Tead. There are certain core elements pointed out by Tead as absolutely necessary for any leadership development program, and they include: “knowledge of the general characteristics of human nature;” “self-knowledge of one’s own combination of qualities;” “a working grasp of the right attitude to possess in dealing with people; an ability to apply all of this knowledge to the mobilizing of energy and enthusiasm for the special objectives of the organization; and deliberate efforts at broadening of the total personality (Tead, 1935).” These, the bare bones of any program, are entirely missing from these “educational” programs.
This highlights two flaws that currently exist within higher education. Students today are being catered to in ways I never thought imaginable. For example, at High Point University students have live music in the cafeteria, speakers in the trees playing music, hot tubs, complimentary valet parking, a campus concierge, free ice cream trucks and snack bars, and perhaps the most outrageous of all, morning wake-up calls (Gioia-Herman, 2008). This desire to please students has rapidly spiraled out of control, and making sure students have fun is even prioritized over educational value for leadership development programs. The second flaw primarily compounds the original issue, and is shown in reviewing Craig Russon and Claire Reinelt’s article, The Results of an Evaluation Scan of 55 Leadership Development Programs. They point out that very few programs are actually based on any leadership theory, are more concerned with mass inexpensive data from surveys immediately after programs, rather than spending some more resources on a multi-level evaluation based on the actual learning goals of the program (Russon, 2004). However, in attending the Association of Fraternal Advisors Annual Meeting this week, there was an overwhelming emphasis in the educational sessions on establishing learning goals and conducting proper assessment of programs. Hopefully this can be a sign that in the future we can count on more relevant and truly necessary training of leaders. While true leadership can not actually be taught in a classroom setting, a proper training program can lay the foundation and help to equip leaders with some of the necessary knowledge and tools to be successful.

Below is the article regarding High Point University:

Herman Trend Alert: Consumer-Driven Higher Education September 24, 2008
The Law of Supply and Demand is alive and well in higher education. Responding to market needs of increased competition, a college in North Carolina has begun to offer leading edge services to its students. Under the brilliant leadership of Dr. Nido Qubein, a serial entrepreneur and renowned professional speaker, High Point University (HPU) provides students with levels of service and perks never before seen in higher education.
Walking through campus is an experience in itself. The main greenway, the Kester International Promenade, features loudspeakers in the trees, playing classical music. HPU recently added six fountains to the campus and six more are planned. Other assorted extras include live music in the cafeteria, a sand volleyball court, and a 16-person hot tub.
HPU students are never hungry. During the warm months of the year, there is an ice cream truck touring campus, offering literally hundreds of varieties of complimentary ice cream and ices. Plus the campus has two snack kiosks providing complimentary refreshments, including pretzels, juice, bottled water, fruit, and hot chocolate throughout the day.
Students also enjoy complimentary daily valet parking and the services of a campus concierge who arranges for dry cleaning, restaurant reservations, tickets for on-campus events, and even wake-up calls. Their new multiplex will feature a movie theatre exclusively for student use. Presuming the students' have money on their cards, their HPU "Passports" (student ID cards) may also act as debit cards at local restaurants
"Our extra services are more than what they appear to be. We are modeling values like generosity, that we want our students to adopt", said Roger Clodfelter, HPU's Director of WOW! "That's why we also recognize students on their birthdays with a card, a piece of cake, balloons, and a small gift. In addition, we send a get-well card and gift when they are sick", he added. It is a "holistic approach to education to prepare students for the real world". Clodfelter is responsible for these value-added services at HPU. (See a later Herman Trend Alert for more about HPU's holistic approach.)
Enrollment has grown significantly with the addition of these welcome perks. You can expect more colleges and universities to follow suit, looking for innovative ways to add value to attending their schools.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A classic piece of Chinese political philosophy & my interpretation

In one of our early classes, we had a lot of discussion about the relationship between a leader and his followers.I was then reminded of a well-accepted notion in Chinese political philosophy, which says: The relationship between a leader and his people is comparable to that between boat and water: water can contain a boat, and it can also capsize a boat. Derived fromA Proposal to the Emperor:Ten Notions,this boat-and-water notion dated back to Tang dynasty(618–907). It was authored by a senior government official named WEI Zheng, who was renowned for his righteousness and straightforwardness. As suggested by the title, WEI Zheng was appealing to the then emperor,LI Shi-min, pointing out ten things LI should keep in mind in order to make the state prosperous and stable.WEI's suggestions were well-received by LI, who kept the essay on his desk as a motto.

I first encountered this piece in my classic Chinese literature class as a freshman in high school.Impressed by its literary merit,I learned the whole piece by heart, which is no more than 450-Chinese characters-long,succinct and pertinent.However, only after our leadership theory class did i come to recognize the essay for its merits in addressing important aspects of leadership. Here i'd like to share with you this thought-provoking piece of literature. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as i do.(I spent a good amount of time translating it into English. Hopefully my translation can preserve its original strength in argumentation:)

A Proposal to the Emperor—Ten Notions

To make a tree grow better, one must reinforce its root; to make a river flow farther, one must clear its source; to make a state stable and prosperous, one must found it on virtue and morality. You don’t grow a tree by cutting off its root, nor do you vitalize a stream by blocking its spring. That’s common sense. By the same token, dwelling in peace and prosperity, Your Majesty should nonetheless be prepared for potential hard times and exercise economy. Otherwise, it would be impossible to build an empire as stable as prosperous.

Previous dynasties have witnessed the rise and fall of scores of emperors. Although many of them did reign with conscience and morality at the beginning, few could stick to the end. Why did they fail? I guess it’s because: in case of plight, a leader often treats his followers wholeheartedly, sparing no effort to consolidate them and mobilize them. However, once the difficulty is overcome and the common cause is realized, the leader is tempted to indulge in the hard-won success with a larger ego. Sincerity and sensibility can unite conflicting parties, while egocentricity and indifference attenuate bonds as strong as that between father and son. Sometimes a leader can get his way by overawing or coercing his followers. However, this will only encourage shrewd followers, who act to shun punishment rather than act out of conscience. A leader can never trade coercion for cohesion: all he harvests is superficial support,let alone respect. The relationship between a leader and his people is comparable to that between boat and water: water can contain a boat, and it can also capsize a boat. This is one thing leaders should always bear in mind.
Here I have “ten thoughts” to propose:

(1) Whenever you find an object desirable to possess, you should remind yourself of complacency instead of pursuing it straightaway.
(2) Before mobilizing extensive manpower to construct new palaces, think about moderation and necessity. People need peace, so try not to bother them too much.
(3) Aloft in position, Your Majesty is susceptible to aloofness. So always bear in mind the idea of humbleness and modesty, and never stop self-development.
(4) To avoid self-conceit and egocentricity, remember that the formation of a broad river is the joint effort of numerous brooks and streams.
(5) If you want to go hunting, go no more than three times a year.
(6) To prevent from slack attitudes, you should attend to a task with uniform diligence from beginning to end.
(7) To avoid being under-informed, you should be open to criticism and advice from your subordinates.
(8) If you fear that some ill-willed flatterers and immoral forces may erode the establishment, being a moral role model yourself will help to get rid of them.
(9, 10) When you award or punish people, don’t entitle to them more than what they deserve. Don’t simply award a person for pleasing you or punish one for annoying you.

If you can exercise these ten notions and glorify the Nine Virtues (loyalty, trustworthiness, respect, firmness, flexibility, harmony, stability, righteousness, and obedience), then good results will follow. Recruit the able ones into your cabinet, fit each into the right position and follow the wise advice. In this way, the smart will capitalize on their talent, the brave stretch every muscle, the kind-hearted spread their kindness and the loyal exercise fidelity. By delegating to the right persons, Your Majesty would reign effectively and effortlessly!

My interpretation:

The landscape in which an ancient emperor reigned is very different from what most organizational leaders face in a modern democracy.However, different social contexts see something in common in effective leaders.Some of WEI Zheng's theories are still applicable to today's leadership.In A Proposal to the Emperor:Ten Notions, WEI highlighted the moralities of leadership. Believing morality to be the cornerstone of a state,he advocated that an emperor must in the first place be a moral role model for his people, demonstrating virtues and justice.A leader should not coerce his followers by any means.Intimadation and suppression may work for some time, but it will not do in a long run.Not only because it's not a productive way to run an organization, it will eventually undermine the leadership.In case of an empire, people may uprise and overthrow the throne,in the same way water capsizes a boat. Here i see an objection to Theory X.

The second important thing a leader does is to delegate. Instead of attending to every triviality, a leader should delegate tasks to the right persons. This requires the leader to have a deep understanding of human nature, as well as expertise in certain fields.For the emperor,he needed to be familiar with military affairs, public administration and economics.

Some background information:

Tang dynasty (618–907) marked one of the most prosperous times in Chinese history. It succeeded the short-lived Sui dynasty and developed a successful form of government and administration on the Sui model. Besides military prowess and national wealth, Tang also stimulated a cultural and artistic flowering that amounted to a golden age. The creative vigor of Tang let it be a more open society, welcoming foreigners in its urban life from Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as from Persia and West Asia.
The second emperor of Tang, LI Shi-min, known as T'ai-tsung, succeeded to the throne in 626 by murdering two brothers and forcing the abdication of his father, but he became one of the greatest emperors China has known. WEI Cheng was one of LI Shi-min’s Confucian moralist mentors. He had served a rival rebel regime, and later took on the role as Li Shi-min’s public conscience (John King Fairbank, 1992 & Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Obama's "Third Culture Administration"

In a previous email, Dr. Robbins noted that Obama stated he hoped to avoid groupthink within his administration.

According to Ruth E. VanReken, members of the future Obama administration "[share] common psychological traits that could shape his administration" (http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2008-11-26/obamas-third-culture-team/). What VanReken is referring to is Obama's developmental background as a "third culture kid," an increasingly common background among children and adults in our increasingly multicultural and global society.

As a "third culture kid" myself, I am particularly interested to see how the diversity and relatability of some of these appointed leaders' experiences will shape new policies, and how their experiences might shape their leadership ability.

Wal-Mart: Culture and Cheer

Our class discussion about organizational culture sparked my own memory of my experiences at Wal-Mart, where I worked in Arkansas as a high school student. While I believe Wal-Mart is by no means a perfect organization and has many faults, the culture I experienced while working at Wal-Mart played a large role in developing a positive mental image of Wal-Mart while I worked there as an employee. The following is an analysis of Wal-Mart’s core values that underlie its culture.

In 1962, Sam Walton opened the very first Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas. As the founder of this one-store organization, he established the company culture upon three basic beliefs: (1) respect for the individual, (2) service to our customers, and (3) striving for excellence. Today, almost half a century and many stores later, the values and organizational cultural which Walton valued still resonate among many of the over 2 million Wal-Mart associates throughout the world (

(1) Respect for the Individual. At Wal-Mart, each employee is referred to as an “associate.” This verbalization emphasizes the shared ownership of Wal-Mart each associate has as an employee. This ownership is both a figurative metaphor which serves to open up lines of communication by downplaying the hierarchy between employees and managers, but is also literal, as many employees buy small shares of Wal-Mart stock, which is encouraged in the initial hire orientation.
(2) Service to Our Customers. At Wal-Mart service and servant leadership are key themes. According to Sam Walton, “Effective leaders don’t lead from behind a desk. It's more important than ever that we develop leaders who are servants, who listen to their partners – their associates – in a way that creates wonderful morale to help the whole team accomplish an overall goal” (www.walmartstores.com). Store managers and district managers are often seen on the floor making themselves available to all associates and practicing the “10-foot rule,” which encourages associates to each customer with the infamous, “How may I help you?” which is written on the back of every associates blue vest.
(3) Striving for Excellence. Wal-Mart employees are constantly encouraged to strive for excellence through competition and improvement. Three store-wide weekly meetings (for each of the three work-shifts) are held at which store managers, department managers, and associates discuss sales strategies (merchandise displays, cleanliness, friendliness), sales performance (compared daily, weekly, and one year earlier), and sales competition (among departments within the same store and with other stores regionally and nationally).
These three core values are particularly strongly embedded within the organization and each associate in part by a rigorous orientation which occurs after initial hiring. Before stepping foot on the actual store floor and beginning training, each associate watches a series of videos regarding Sam Walton’s life, core values, and history of the company. By watching these videos, many associates may become inspired. In many ways, the life of Sam Walton encompasses the American Dream of going from rags to riches. By working at Wal-Mart, they to have chance at the American Dream through hard work, promotions, and developing community relationships.
Perhaps one can best show the strength of Wal-Mart culture in the activities which often occur during the store-wide weekly meetings previously noted. These meetings are characterized by an open and inclusive family dinner table-like environment. Managers and associates come together in an open space in the back of the store to discuss store happenings, compare sales performances, share a package of cookies, and announce weekly birthdays of associates throughout the store. Each meeting ends with the infamous “Wal-Mart Cheer”:
Give me a W!
Give me an A!
Give me an L!
Give me a squiggly!
Give me an M!
Give me an A!
Give me an R!
Give me a T!
What's that spell?
Whose Wal-Mart is it?
It's my Wal-Mart!
Who's number one?
The customer! Always!

To me, this cheer exemplifies Sam Walton’s original values of respect, service, and excellence which are still embodied and valued by many Wal-Mart managers and associates, regardless of the negative attention the corporate side of Wal-Mart has increasingly (and often deservedly) received in recent years.

Just For Fun:
Video of the Wal-Mart Cheer:

Innovation and creativity, anyone? Here is an example of some Wal-Mart employees in Sherwood, Arkansas, really taking “ownership” of the Wal-Mart Cheer and making it their own:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Disaster Preparation: You're Probably Doing It Wrong

Subtitle: This is a blog entry it should not be so confrontational- I apologize.

A little background: E.L. Quarantelli is one of the leading scholars in Disaster Research. He is a Sociologist, and his work combines Sociology with Emergency Management practices. He has been studying disasters since before there was a FEMA or a Hurricane Katrina or a September 11th. A large portion of what we know for sure about how people respond during disasters and much of what we know about disaster response has come from him and his students and colleagues at the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. He is brilliant, and if you ever want to know more about him and his work drop by Google or come sit by me.

Although Quarantelli does not specifically work in the area of Leadership, many parallels can be drawn between his work in disaster preparedness and that of the theorists we have studied this semester. In particular, the ideas of visionary leadership and leadership as a process are especially applicable.

First, Quarantelli stresses that disaster preparedness in an organization is a process that requires a vision from the outset. Quarantelli (1991) tells us that if your organization is planning for disaster and your goal is to produce a plan, you're doing it wrong. There should, of course, be a plan in place, but that plan should only be a reflection of the vision of the leader and the preparation that has occurred- an indicator of what steps will be taken in the event of a disaster, not a step-by-step how-to.

So what is the most effective way to prepare for a disaster? The first step, of course, is to understand your risk. The primary person who should take on this task is the leader of the organization, both because not being destroyed in a disaster (literally, figuratively or financially) is so important a factor in the success of an organization, and also because it should be the leader of the organization who does the visioning for the way that the organization should respond (Sashkin 1989). That vision should then be communicated to and carried out by other members of the organization.

Of course, a vision is one thing, but as is the case in all organizational activities, conceptualizing is one thing- real-life implementation is another. This is where disaster prevention becomes a process, and in this case, the reasoning behind preparation as a process is entirely practical. Although a disaster is technically any event that overwhelms existing resources, we'll use a fire in your organization's building as a basic example. If and when this fire occurs, not only do you want Brian and Jane to be able to get up the stairs and out of the building in the fastest possible time, but you also want to practice so that you are able to foresee any obstacles they might face. Does the emergency exit have to be manually unlocked? Will the stairwell get too crowded for people to get out? Is there enough light in case of smoke or a power outage. None of these things can be foreseen if your main preparation is drawing an arrow on a map of the building. The preparation is in the process.

Thus, we come back to Selznick's vision of leadership as a "work" to be done to fit the needs of the situation. This is the essence of good disaster and emergency preparation- doing the work. The plan comes after.

Escape from Jonestown

A few weeks ago CNN aired a special about the Jonestown Massacre and particularly focused on the survivors of this event. The documentary immediately engaged my focus as I recalled some of our class readings and discussions especially echoing Milgrim’s article on obedience as well as the Groupthink article. The question that seems to spring from horrific incidents like this one is how could this possibly have happened? The theories that seem to shed some light on a possible answer to this question lie in these aforementioned articles. But before I continue, the following is a brief summary of the Jonestown Massacre for those who aren’t as familiar:

In 1978, 909 Americans died in Jonestown, an area established in South America by the Reverend Jim Jones, from an apparent mass murder-suicide by poison commanded by the reverend himself. One third of those that died that day were children, most of who were poisoned by their own parents. Only 33 people survived the ordeal. Besides September 11, this incident has been the greatest single day, non-natural disaster loss of American lives.

What struck me while watching the documentary was - what was it about those who lived that enabled them to survive? The answer is likely found in the results of Milgrim’s experiments. Just as Milgrim sought to answer what possessed the Nazi’s to carry out the horrific acts of the holocaust by conducting his experiment, so too might the answer for Jonestown be found.
The results of the experiment and the outcome of Jonestown are contrary to what most would expect and hope to occur. Most people would think that when moral values and obedience to authority conflict that people would choose to follow their morality rather than submit to an authority that breaks with these morals, but sadly this does not appear to be the case. Instead, many people feel psychologically compelled to submit both because they defer responsibility for their actions to the authority and also to avoid the stress associated with disobeying. In Jonestown, this appears to be exactly what happened. The negatives associated with dissenting felt greater than the negatives of submitting to these people and the strength of this feeling swelled to the great level that it was, because of the grip Groupthink had on them.
Groupthink is cultivated in part by the notion of the dilemma of obedience and it became a behavioral tool that Jim Jones used horrifically well. Symptoms of Groupthink, especially in this situation, are paranoia and fear; from the outset, Jim Jones attracted people whose personalities alone made them more susceptible to become victimized by Groupthink. He appealed to the ‘wounded’ side of people who shared a disillusioned view of society because many of them were outcasts and he made them feel that he related and understood their plight. He also had a message that seemed to lift them from their troubles. Yet, Jones grounded this message in fear and in doing so, created a culture of followers that were steadfastly loyal and unquestioning of his mission. To further create an environment of followers that sought to avoid disobedient behavior, Jones began a procedure known as catharsis in which any member who had committed a wrong doing or had been disagreeable was publicly humiliated and punished in front of the entire congregation. This reinforcing mechanism, witnessed in real life by his followers, served to elevate Groupthink, and particularly the ‘obedience factor’, to a tremendously dangerous level. No one wanted to disagree or be known by others as having differing thoughts.
Eventually people became trapped in the thick blanket of Groupthink, yet they didn’t really recognize it. The phenomenon grew so powerful that Jones was able to plant the seed of his mass suicide idea without receiving direct criticism and without causing his followers to discuss their disagreements behind his back. If anyone disagreed, they kept it to themselves and followed along with how everyone else reacted. In November of 1978, when his command came, all but 33 individuals became victims of Groupthink and the obedience dilemma. In the documentary, the commentator describes the incredible courage and strength it took for those 33 to survive by dissenting, which to an outsider looking in would seem like an ironic characterization - why would it take great strength to disagree with someone who is asking you to commit suicide? Yet, when one delves deeper into the psychological components at play here, the dismaying events of this day and why they occurred reveal the extreme courage that these individuals displayed to emerge from the guise that Jim Jones had created.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What the Big 3 can learn from LPO 3450

We are all aware of the economic situation in the United States at this point. Every time I check CNN.com, the 6 o’clock news, or get a text message from my friends who are worried about choosing to major in Economics, there are talks about another bailout to a financial firm, industry, etc. The Big 3 (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) have requested $25 billion in government loans to cover costs due to the worst U.S. auto sales downturn in 25 years. However, Congress has abandoned a vote on the bailout because the CEOs have failed to produce clear plans on how they will change the way they do business. The CEOs will make another trip to Washington with detailed plans on how they will use the money to save the industry. These CEOs would benefit from a crash course on what we have learned in LPO 3450. Although, it is not practical to learn or become a leader based on the frameworks overnight, it would help to guide their decisions with respect to changing the structure and practices of the auto industry.

With respect to the state of the economy, which ultimately affects consumer decisions, the vision of the company must adapt to the changing external environment. Americans are finally starting to avoid purchasing automobiles with inefficient gas mileage. The days of buying a gas-guzzling, 12 mile per gallon SUV are long gone. Although gas prices are back down to around $2 per gallon, it is hard for Americans to forget last summer when prices were at least $4 per gallon. So the question remains, why are the Big 3 not producing cars that Americans want? In order to meet the needs of consumers, which will inevitably affect the bottom line or profit, the vision must change to reflect consumer demands. Nadler and Tushman would describe the current state of the Big 3 as in need of a re-creation, which is described as a risky endeavor initiated under crisis conditions and under sharp time constraints. It is important to note that most re-creations involve a change in the vision, core values, and structure of the organization. The key challenge for executives facing turbulent environments is to learn how to effectively initiate, lead, and manage re-creations.

In addition to changes in the vision, the abilities of charismatic leadership will facilitate the change or re-creation of the industry. Charismatic leadership is characterized by a clear collective vision and the ability to communicate it effectively to all employees. Similar to Choi’s definition of the components of charismatic leadership (envisioning, empathy, and empowerment), Nadler and Tushman use similar words to describe the same components: envision, energize, and enable. In order for the employees of the auto industry to implement the vision, the leaders must be able to energize and enable their employees to carry out practices that align with the adapted vision or re-creation of the industry.

However, visionary and charismatic leadership alone are not sufficient to re-create the industry. The auto industry must embody the characteristics of the learning organization (Senge) and the knowledge creating organization (Nonaka). Senge states “the impulse to learn, at its heart, is an impulse to be generative, expanding our capability.” He explains further that the learning organization must focus on generative learning, which is about creating, and adaptive learning, which is about coping. The culture of the auto industry has been more reactive than it has been proactive. In an industry, in which survival is dependent on having a competitive edge, generative learning is critical. This way the industry will focus on proactively generating new innovations as opposed to producing or creating as a response to increasing competition. Another important characteristic of the learning organization is leading though creative tension instead of problem solving. Senge explains that creative tension is the gap between current reality and the desirable future state. Leading through creative tension, organizations are motivated by accomplishing the vision. However, problem solving focuses on rectifying the problems and the motivation is based solely on the desire to escape the current undesirable state. The auto industry must avoid problem solving and begin to lead through creative tension, thereby constantly remaining ahead in the competition.

The reactive culture of the auto industry is a result of fear of failure. Risky decisions are avoided, which in turn prevents the development of new innovations. The industry tries to avoid the mistakes that can lead to innovative successes. This makes it difficult to make the shift from a play-it-safe corporate culture to an innovation-driven culture, which is an imperative to thrive in a globally competitive market. Nonaka uses specific words such as redundancy, metaphors, spiral of knowledge, etc to describe aspects of the knowledge creating company. These words are likely to be unpopular among CEOs and senior leadership of the Big 3. However, Nonaka explains that these aspects of the company that involve risk taking are characteristic of “the best Japanese companies that have the ability to respond quickly to customers, create new markets, rapidly develop new products, and dominate emergent technologies.” The Big 3 CEOs must understand that fear of failure and mistakes is an obstacle. However, this does not suggest that failure should be embraced to the point of losing profit. The failure to produce a plan on how the Big 3 will change business practices is a clear example of fear to change and take risks. Risk-taking will be necessary to develop new innovations, change practices, and restructure the industry.

It is clear that the CEOs of the Big 3 have a very complex situation at hand. However, there is no one solution, no “cookie cutter” approach that can be applied to the auto industry. Therefore, it is critical to focus on a holistic approach, which entails drawing from various leadership frameworks. Understanding the importance of the key points from each leadership framework can shape the new and/or reformed business practices of the Big 3. A clear plan, which incorporates the points addressed above as well as others, may prove to be more appealing to Congress.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wait, I totally wanted to revisit the talk about the leader as "designer"

I wanted to comment on the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago about the leader as a designer because I think that this analysis has some implications that are important to review and critique.

The leader as “a designer” (as the name implies) is responsible for the “design” (duh) of the organization- but what I wonder is, what does this look like? We talked in the beginning of the semester about vision and the responsibility / opportunity of the follower to not only step in but alter / personalize this vision and I wonder if the “leader as a designer” allows for this—how does a leader balance follower / employee input while maintaining ownership and responsibility of the design? And furthermore, once a leader shares his design with others, who takes responsibility for the direction of the company?

I think that this last question is where I became particularly intrigued in our discussion in class relating to our current financial crisis… in a system where there are multiple organizations / leaders / factors at play, who takes responsibility?

For Heifitz, responsibility for an organization’s success and failure lies with both the leader and the community. But what if the communities, as Kelly categorizes them, are comprised of sheep (Heifitz, “Values of Leadership)? What if they choose / do not have the opportunity to be anything other than “passive and uncritical, lacking in initiative and sense of responsibility” [due to education and knowledge limitations, sense [or actual] of powerlessness etc.] (Kelly, In Praise of Followers, 195). Do we hold them responsible for being sheep and thus criticize them for not taking responsibility of the success and failures of the community / organization of which they are a part (by choice or circumstance)? Or do we agree with Burns, who says that success is a function of contribution to change, pressured by purpose drawn from collective motives and values (Burns, “Toward a General Theory”)? But again, who is the collective? And does the leader, as designer, also become responsible for adopting systematic, structural and procedural change? If he / she directs this change, how can he / she share the responsibility for the outcome with the collective? The collective, as participants, carry out the tasks / responsibilities necessary to implement the change, but if the leader is the designer, how, if, when, by whom the change is implemented is solely his / her responsibility- or is it? If we assume that the collective is comprised of (again as Kelly calls them) “effective followers” because they think critically, are self-managers, and are not afraid (and do!) challenge the leadership… if they do not simply complete the tasks / assignments they are given without thinking critically about the consequences and previous decisions made to lead to their change in role / responsibility (aka are not “sheep”) then maybe we also hold them responsible—but again, this is contingent upon the fact that these followers are “effective followers”— and that is dependent upon the leader’s ability to pick those types of followers…
But how does he / she do that?

Can we, using the most common recruiting techniques, determine which people to pick?- can we tell from interviews, essays and most basically resumes, who will be “effective followers”—I think we determined in class that no, these methods are inefficient—so what do we do instead?

One tactic that I know we mentioned in class, but did not develop to the fullest potential in my opinion is the idea of ‘trail periods’- why does our evaluation of the quality of an employee end with the last interview stage? An organization hires an employee after a candidate completes the application process and is deemed suitable for the position- but what if we put “hires” in quotations and allow for a trial period to determine, from actual work experience with the organization, if the organization’s initial impression was in fact correct and that the new “hire” is not only suitable but excels in the position. So what difference do the quotations make?- The potential new employee is accepted into the organization and completes tasks that require minimal training (I should have prefaced that this particular idea is adapted to deal with entry level positions but could certainly be altered to accommodate upper-level placements). The organization’s leaders / peer level position occupants etc. can observe and evaluate the new hires work habits, ethic and moral foundation, creativity, potential (aka their ability to be “effective followers”) etc. during the trial period—and while benefiting from the work completed by the new “hire” (and paying them for their services) they can also evaluate whether or not they want to hire the employee (without the quotations). Thus, after a two month period (aka long enough to be able to observe the “hire” but not so long that the organization looses on the opportunity for the “hire” to truly contribute to the organization’s processes as a fulltime employee) the organization / designer decides whether or not to train and integrate the employee and officially hire him / her. I should say that this plan is certainly not flawless (and with this brief description even I have left out some critical components) but the intention is the most important: allowing an opportunity for creative hiring practices gives organizations the potential to hire “effective followers” that will benefit the organization and actively take responsibility / ownership for the organization’s successes and failures.

The point? An attempt to answer my initial question… what does a “designer” look like?
Do they:

Create a vision
With the help of others? Adapted by others? Allow others to take ownership of the vision? Do they respect a diversity of views within the community? Should they?

Design strategy to advance the goals of the organization (as they align with the vision)
Develop norms and a group culture
Orchestrate conflict
Make viable decisions that affect the organization’s vision
Exhibit choice and priority making
Does this include negotiation?
Organize human effort
Especially related to the ability to control and predict behavior and consequences of decisions
(Ideas adopted from Heifitz, Burns and Stogdill)
AND, can there be more than one?
Do we run into the same problems we have when we have “too many cooks in the kitchen?” I say, not if we turn to McGregor’s principle that “leadership is not a property of the individual, but a complex relationship among these variables” [on contingency theory of leadership] (McGregor, “An Analysis of Leadership”) “Designers” = Leaders, must be willing to allow others to influence their original designs and, at times, share their kitchen with “effective followers”.

Wait. I lied. I like this idea better.

Not designers. Contractors.
I am abandoning the designer metaphor. Leaders are contractors. Their vision for an “initial build” or even “remodel” must depend on the ideas, specialties, creativity, needs, of all other stakeholders [vision building]. Once the vision is created, the contractor must rely on other “effective followers” to be successful- the architect, plumber, electrician etc.- leaders who specialize in a particular department- all necessary to accomplishing the vision – the contractor hires, based on a trial period- if the “roofer” isn’t displaying the necessary characteristics up to the contractor’s standards, he / she will be replaced – the contractor designs a strategy to advance the goals / components of the vision, develops norms and a group culture, orchestrates conflict, makes viable decisions that affect the vision, exhibit choice and priority making, and organize human effort… all with the input and contributions of his / her “effective followers”. And if he / she is successful? It was because of the collective. And if he / she fails? It was because of the collective. But in either case, it is his/ her responsibility. He / she caries that gift, or burden, as a leader- in other words, it may not be his / her fault, but as leaders, they are entrusted with the “build” / “remodel” and it’s their responsibility to, to the best of their ability, ensure effective and efficient success.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leadership Nominating Committee

Leadership Nominating Committee
Were we looking for the right qualities and experience?

Watch out y’all! An inside look into sororities…

A little background:

As an active member of Pi Beta Phi (Pi Phi), one is expected to serve in at least one position throughout the three and a half years. There are over 50 positions in the house ranging from extremely active such as the executive board, to the intramural sports chair. I had a few positions throughout my time; however the most important position I had was the co-chair of the Leadership and Nominating Committee (LNC). This committee, made up of two girls from each of the sophomore, junior, and senior classes, is the only committee appointed by the President. All other positions in Pi Phi are applied for and consist of an application stating skills and experience, as well as an interview process. The purpose of LNC is to read every application, interview, and place the Pi Phis into their appropriate positions. This process becomes somewhat of a puzzle with over 50 positions and over 120 girls in the house and takes up to a few weeks to complete.

Now onto the class relevance:
Essentially, LNC chooses leaders from a group of applicants who must continue to uphold Pi Phi values and steer the sorority in the right direction. We, as committee members, looked specifically for experience and leadership qualities. We wanted to make sure that the applicant was responsible, sociable, dependable, and was able to make good judgments. They should have had experience in the field they were applying for, for example: a girl applying for the philanthropy position should have had experience with community service, etc. Also, the girls should have been able to work well with the others in their cohorts horizontally and vertically (this is where the puzzle comes in). LNC members who serve on the committee their junior year typically become co-chairs of LNC their senior year and learn from experience. One thing we learned from previous years was that those applicants who work well together develop a good rapport and are better equipped at motivating the other Pi Phis in the house to join in on their activities.

After examining the readings from this class, I have come to find that our idea of leadership in LNC was a combination of born vs. made. We believed that both trait theory and experience played a part in the leaders we chose to run our organization. There were many of Stogdill’s characteristics often written on our sheets as possible adjectives to use while we discussed applicants. But like McGregor, we made sure to understand that experience could make up for a lack of traits, and that “skills and attitudes…can be acquired by people who differ widely in their inborn traits and abilities”. We also believed, like Selznick that leadership was an active process and would have to take place within the relationship of the leaders and followers, therefore it was important to make sure that the applicants would get along. Another aspect of leadership that we worked on was the adaptability of applicants in their specific positions. We made sure that the applicants would get along with the other girls well and be able to adapt to difficult situations. As Rost has explained, “the only possible way for people to cope with such multiple relationships is for them to be leaders in some relationships and followers in others”.

Through reliving my experiences on LNC, I have found that not only were we pretty accurate at choosing leaders, but we ourselves were leaders! We were the designers of the sorority. “Leadership in learning organizations centers on subtler and ultimately more important work” (Senge, 1990). We were chosen for good reason by our President (most of us had some sort of leadership position before and were studying psychology in some fashion), and were able to put it to good use. Since we were appointed to the position and had ample chances to deny, we all had the intrinsic motivation necessary to carry out our position as creators of the new face of Pi Phi. We all brought unique qualities and experiences to the table and were able to work well with each other deliberating decisions for hours. The only limitation I could see in our leadership style is Janis’ idea of groupthink. Due to our long hours considering many applicants for many positions, at the end of the day we may have all wanted to agree and remained loyal to the group instead of voicing a differing opinion.

Thank you for reading up on Pi Phi and have a great Thanksgiving break!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Just something of interest to those who want to enjoy some reading over the holidays. This seemed right up our alley with some of our class discussions, particularly after watching the video on extraordinary individuals. 


Application of Leadership Theories to the Military

I just read an article on msnbc.com titled, Admirals, generals: Let gays serve openly, that discussed the possibility of repealing a military policy concerning sexual orientation, simply put “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This article gives a glimpse of the cultural structure contained in the military, an occupation that many people, including my parents, choose to become a part of. Because I am the product of the military lifestyle, it seemed only right to discuss the potential theories of leadership within this federal organization, where I had the opportunity to watch my mother advance to levels that were unheard of for the majority of females at the time. The military has to have leaders that execute leadership, but how are leaders chosen in order to assume the position?
The process begins in recruitment where each candidate is required to pass an aptitude test in order to know what occupation within the military he or she would be best qualified to be trained in. The aptitude test may highlight some of the natural abilities and strengths the person will bring to the military. Boot camp consists of requiring everyone to look the same, stripping away individuality, in hopes of instilling the value of being a part of a team. More importantly, boot camp seeks to get recruits to become adept to following orders, no matter how illogical some may seem in the training. As Robert E. Kelley stated, “We are convinced that corporations succeed or fail, compete or crumble, on the basis of how well they are led” (Kelley, 1988). Because the military can find themselves in very dangerous and high stress level situations, such as war for example, it is imperative that the soldiers under command are able to follow and execute orders that are, in some instances, a matter of life or death.
The military has an “up or out” policy that requires members to actively seek to improve themselves while in the service or face the possibility of being fired. There are certain benchmarks in place or certain ranks that men and women are supposed to achieve by a specified amount of time. In order to obtain promotions, training is provided to the candidates. For some ranks, candidates must have completed a certain level of training before consideration. However, because the military is like a pyramid, where advancement becomes more competitive and fewer are promoted at each level, it is not solely training that get candidates promoted, it is also there ability to implement the skills learned into practice within their respective field that shows they are able to take the training and utilize it when necessary efficiently. Opportunities are provided for candidates to execute their knowledge through application and because of the structure of the military, there is some supervision, and because of that, there are also opportunities for personal conferences for feedback purposes (Tead, 1935).
As stated before, very few members of the military make it to the top, so what is it about them that sets them apart from the rest? There are some traits that are highly important in this line of work and others that vary and can be utilized when needed. From observation, leaders in this organization display a high level of loyalty and trust, which is important in a field where one knowingly acknowledges the possibility of giving up one’s life for the safety of his or her country. Ralph Stogdill classified some leadership traits into broader general headings, ones in which are essential to the military: capacity, achievement, responsibility, participation, and status (Stogdill, 1948). Of course, Stogdill also mentions that the leader’s ability varies depending on the “characteristics, activities, and goals of the followers” and is situational (Stogdill, 1948). The military members assigned to leadership positions should be a role model to their followers. Leading by example assists with establishing respect and trust with the followers. Building on the relationship between leader and follower creates referent power, where both exert influence over one another (Hughes, 1993).
There are many theories that assist with describing what a leader is and what leadership consists of. Unfortunately, I only had a chance to discuss a few theories that describe leadership through the context of the military. While many may join the military initially, only a select few make it to the top. It is through the experiences that they have and the innate personal skills and talents they bring to any given situation that propels them to positions of leadership.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why we need to develop leaders

Happy Monday everyone! I know we did not have too much time to discuss the readings from the past couple of weeks on creativity and leaders as teachers, so I just wanted to share some of my thoughts. Regardless of the theory a company uses, creativity and teaching are essential for success. Unfortunately, the United States is currently feeling the lingering effects of a leadership crisis stemming from the post-World War II era and the incredible economic success which allowed the country to have a sense of complacency. Meanwhile, other countries around the world were struggling to develop new strategies for overtaking the hegemon that the United States became.
I recently read Jay Conger and Beth Benjamin’s book, Building Leaders: How Successful Companies Develop the Next Generation (1999), in which they discuss how after World War II, many industries in the United States’ have operated under the theory that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” and consequently allowed leaders to maintain the status quo and not worry about thinking creatively to grow their organizations. Certainly some corporations have served as the exception, but overall, the majority of the United States did not see the need for leadership development when everything was going so well. It appears that many companies took Philip Selznick’s concept of leadership seriously when he asserts that “leadership is not equally necessary in all large-scale organizations, or in any one at all times” (Selznick, 1957). Notice that his writing was printed in the 1950’s, the same time in American history when this theory seemed to resonate with people. Many people in our class seemed to disagree with this assertion, but many companies chose to believe that during their successful years, “visionary leadership” was not necessary.
In regards to the idea of leaders as teachers, it is interesting to note that this idea first appeared in the 1930’s as America was desperately searching for leadership in the recovery from the Great Depression, and now appears again in recent times as America seeks to reclaim its dominant role in the international arena. The readings on leadership as creativity and innovation also come from the past decade and highlight Japanese companies as today’s most prolific innovators. It is certainly relieving to see that America realizes its blunder and with all of the leadership development emphasis that is occurring in the corporate world, is actively trying to remedy the problem.
Nearly all of the researchers mention setting a vision as one of the key tasks of a leader, and this is especially true in creative leadership. There is nothing creative about maintaining the status quo. Creativity needs to be nurtured and protected as shown in Richard Florida and Jim Goodnight’s description of SAS, as well Beer, Khurana, and Weber’s study of Hewlett-Packard. Something that has become apparent throughout all of the different themes is the inter-connectedness of these leadership components. Creativity is promoted through culture, and culture is determined by the vision the leader sets for the company. The vision and culture can only flourish if the followers allow them to, and that no one vision is well-suited for every situation, as is clearly demonstrated by Carly Fiorina. However, very few if any people can see all of this without some sort of training or leadership helping to reveal it to them. The importance of the leaders as teachers in helping to develop others enables the future leaders to understand this more fully.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

David Palmer for President

Presidents are leaders, by status and as seen by their followership. They are Commander in Chief of the United States of America and are appointed for the people and by the people. However, all presidents have their own leadership styles. I will use this post to argue that the fictional television character of David Palmer on 24 is an ideal example of a President’s leadership style. I will also analyze Barack Obama’s leadership style in context of David Palmer’s.

In class we discussed the presidential candidate’s leadership qualities, and I believe that David Palmer is a combination of the candidate’s positive qualities and more. Even on this fictional television show, David Palmer represents a history maker as the first African American President. He is straightforward and truthful, always stating what he believes while being reasonable to actions that need to be taken. He understands what people want and need, and is thoughtful, wise, and fair. David Palmer is incredibly ethical and treats others with respect. He is a problem solver, and when he cannot solve a task by himself, he calls on his loyal followers to help. He is humble, but assertive when necessary, and is considerate of other people’s beliefs.

David Palmer’s leadership style is situational. He is able to act accordingly to different issues. He is a transformational leader in the sense that his followers see him as a regular citizen and can therefore identify with him. He mobilizes his people by example, showing them that ethics, morals, and values can be utilized during times of crisis (which happen quite often on 24), and that persistence and consistency can lead the country through these times of crisis. However, even though his morals and ideals remain the same, he is changing and transforming the ideals of others to follow his lead. Burns would say that this is the route to an aspirational goal: change and transformational work by the people.

David Palmer is also a very charismatic leader. Choi would describe the leadership style as a “motivational theory of charismatic leadership…(suggesting) that a charismatic leader generally generates positive individual and organizational outcomes by displaying behaviors that stimulate followers’ needs.” (Choi, 2006) This ideal form of Presidential leadership is to some extent echoed by Barack Obama. Many have referred to him as a charismatic leader. Our class described him as a history maker, transformational leader, mobilizer, servant leader, and creator and protector of his core values: hope, change and unity.

Barack Obama’s 30 minute “Obama Vision” commercial is a great example of his leadership style being very similar to that of David Palmer. The personal stories about middle class Americans illustrated his care for the people as well as showed the viewers how his specific policies would give those families the solutions they needed. He discussed how the country is enduring some challenging times, however we have had even tougher times before and that we will prevail. He spoke of a better future for every American in a new era of responsibility and discussed how in order to get America back on track we need to concentrate on Middle America and not the fortune 500 companies. His optimism and uniting terms show the viewers that this is “Our home” and empowers us to come together to fight for our causes. He said, “There is no liberal America, there is no conservative America… there is the United States of America”.

This charismatic speech is something similar to what David Palmer would say when addressing the nation, making sure to identify with the people, empower them to feel as though they can be a part of making decisions for their country. In Barack Obama’s case, he was able to do this with his nomination to become President of the United States of America. His followers feel as though they contributed to making history. Now, we as a country must wait to see if Barack Obama’s leadership style remains steadfast and consistent and if he follows the ideal path that David Palmer has paved in his fictional television show.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be yelling, “David Palmer for President!”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Higher Ed Learning in Accreditation

The Scope of Leadership in Election 2008

In light of this historic moment in America, I was moved by the reaction of my friends abroad. In addition to the text messages, phone calls, emails, facebook messages from my family and friends in America, I received two international phone calls from a friend in Trinidad and a friend in Ethiopia. I received emails from my former students in Ethiopia, emails from two friends in Argentina, another from a friend in Brazil, as well as several facebook messages from my former Ethiopian co-workers (when I was an ESL teacher in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). The reactions from my international friends were those of shock, happiness, excitement, etc. For example, my former student wrote “Wow, America has a president that looks like me. That is very good” and my former co-worker wrote “Congratulations to your country! They elected a black president I am happy for you guys. I thought that could never happen in a place like America. It gives hope to people in my country who suffer from discrimination because of their ethnic group. Maybe an Oromo will become president of Ethiopia in years to come. Change came to America and will come to other countries too.”

Thinking back to our discussion about the leadership of the candidates, I began to think about Obama’s transformational leadership abilities. Obama was able to address the needs of followers while elevating these followers to a higher moral level. Evident from his speech last night, it was and is a joint pursuit of shared goals and aspirations for change. However, the scope of Obama’s leadership extends beyond America and into the lives of the global community. He is able to evoke the spirit of hope, change, and unity not just for Americans but for citizens of the world. Just look at this clip showing global Obama celebrations: http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2008/11/05/mxp.obama.worldwide.cnn

As I sat in a few tears, shock, excitement and every other emotion felt when history is made, I was proud of Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s exceptional campaign and victory. But more important, I was very proud of America. This historic moment not only demonstrated the leadership of the Democratic Party but also that of the American citizen, who participated in democratic process regardless of their party affiliation, personal beliefs, or candidate choice. This election truly manifested the leadership abilities of American citizens. Everyone who casted a vote (whether for Mc Cain, Obama, or other) displayed exceptional leadership by taking a stand for the future of this country. It is important to note the world is proud of America! We were and hopefully will continue to be small l leaders in changing the future of this country!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some Comments on a Time Article

I’ve been reading Time magazine since October. It came to my attention that, up to now, four out of five cover stories are dedicated to the presidential election and one to financial crisis. This is quite understandable, since both issues hold center stage in our life today. What’s more, their interplay is as subtle as significant.
In Does Temperament Matter? (Time, Oct 27, p40), a well-written and easy reading piece of work, Nancy Gibbs addresses both issues with crispy wits. Besides analyzing the distinctive ways Obama and McCain react to the ongoing financial crisis, she tries to measure the weight temperament can have on presidential leadership in a historical perspective.

In short, I find this article to be a conversational account of traits theories-also a hybrid one.

Under the subtitle of What Qualities Matter, Gibbs discusses a number of traits which are conducive to successful leadership. Here I’ll just comment on some of her arguments.

1. Intelligence vs Willingness to Hear Different Voices
Only the brightest ones among us can be capable leaders? Is that true? “It’s good to be smart, but that’s no guarantee of success; Woodrow Wilson, the only President with a Ph.D., never won over a majority of voters. More important is the confidence that lets you welcome smart people around you – and hope they disagree.” A good leader should make his/herself open to different opinions. True willingness to hear various and even conflicting voices is different from surface tolerance. Think of this: after making a proposal, a leader asks his people for their opinion. When they speak up, he/she just pretends to be listening. Then he/she ends up with his/her pre-determined plan and calls it the fruit of group discussion. This is not a rare case. It’s frustrating for followers to find out that the leader is not really interested in what they are saying. Don’t try to fool them. They can always tell. So when you listen, listen completely. The ability to accommodate conflicting ideas lies in one’s self-confidence and a larger concern with corporate goal beyond self-interests. Gibbs uses Lincoln’s story as a showcase. When people asked Lincoln why he stocked his Cabinet with former adversaries, Lincoln said, “Look, these are the strongest and most able men in the country. The country’s in peril. I need them by my side.”

2. Vitality & Resilience
“Perhaps even more important than intelligence is vitality: Tiger beats Eeyore any day.” Before set out envisioning and mobilizing followers, a leader needs to be self-motivated. He needs the energy to take actions and the resources to put ideas into practice. “Resilience helps too; every President will get thrown back against a wall and need to come back stronger. Just ask Bill Clinton. So do steadfastness, persistence, conviction.” So far Gibbs has given us a pretty good list of essential traits. If she stops at this point, it’s fine. However, she goes on saying that, “But as soon as you make the list, it mocks you, for history is a dance of luck and intent, and sometimes they trip each other.” This actually takes her argument to the next level as it touches upon situational theories.

3. Situational Theories
Again, Gibbs illustrates her point by giving examples. Wilson was strong enough to win a war but too stubborn to save the peace, while Hoover never understood that politics was more art than engineering. A question naturally arises from the above discussion is: Is leadership transferrable? Does a successful leader in one context automatically excel in another? Is their performance predictable? “Not only can’t you know what a President will face, but his reflexes in one crisis may not be typical of how he responds to another,” Gibbs observes. This echoes the situational theories we learned in class.

Obama and his Eloquence

Through out the campaign Barack Obama has been back-handedly complimented for his eloquence. According to his political opponents being a charismatic communicator is a strike against Obama in some way. If he speaks well, inspires millions in the U.S. and around the world, and garners the enthusiastic endorsements of artists and entertainers, it is not because he is a leader, but because he is a silver tongued celebrity. Though pundits debate whether it is a positive or negative attribute, most agree that Obama is a gifted communicator. I can't help but wonder how this a bad thing.

Hackman and Johnson define leadership specifically as "communication which modifies the attitudes and behaviors of others in order to meet group goals and needs" (Hackman and Johnson, 1991). In this conception it is communication that defines leadership. Leadership effectiveness depends on whether one can process cues from the environment, listen well to others, and establish satisfying group relationships. Leaders are those who can take this input from others and convert it into vision for the future. Obama matches these traits. As a person of mixed race in a predominantly white environment he is adept at understanding his situation and molding the impression he makes. He has established a reputation for inviting divergent views to the table in order to hear perspectives other than his own. He has inspired the most productive movement of professional and volunteer organizers, people who are satisfied just to be a part of the process. Most of all he has cast a large vision for the future in simple words like unity, hope and change.

Marshall Sashkin captures this idea in his conception of visionary leadership. A visionary leader is someone who can construct a vision and create an ideal image of the organization and its culture (Sashkin, 1989). This leader then must be able to define the organizational philosophy and put it into practice with programs and policies. An effective leader, according to Sashkin, is one who can express an organizational aim, through written and face to face relations, and extend this vision in a variety of circumstances. Obama is a quintessential visionary leader.

Communication and vision casting are not trivial traits. Look at the history of the United States and you will find that great presidents are known for exactly these skills. Lincoln stood up to the seceding South in the vision of the Emancipation Proclamation and the eloquence of his second inaugural address. Franklin D. Roosevelt calmed the fears of the nation in the Depression through fireside radio chats and called the country to defeat fascism in World War II through rousing rhetoric. John F. Kennedy was in office such a short time, but is remembered on behalf of his image management, his optimism, and his vision for the future. And Ronald Reagan, an actor, was hailed for his oratorical skills as he communicated his way through the end of the Cold War. That is what good presidents do. They listen to the public, and then speak for America. They invite confidence and participation. They use words and style to advocate on behalf of policy, both here and abroad. They embody the image of the nation. These are not small traits, rather they are quite charismatic.

To further substantiate this view of leaderhip as communication, we need only look at its antithesis: George Bush. I do not bring his presidency up as a straw man. Any honest citizen must acknowledge that President Bush has enacted some good programs, like the emergency fund for AIDS in Africa. But by all accounts he has not been a good communicator and this has cost the country in her own self confidence and reputation around the world. In the wake of this administration of little listening, miscast vision and poorly communicated plans, the nation needs a visionary leader, someone who can rebrand America both internally and externally, someone who can make people believe again. If eloquence is essential in that endeavor, then Obama should not be faulted for his fluency.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Toyota's creative innovations

Reading the "The Knowledge-Creating Company," I was reminded of visiting Toyota Corporation in while studying abroad in Japan. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of using metaphors as a way to communicate implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge, and the use of teams to create competition and dialogue among various perspectives to invent the most innovative product.

Here are some links showing Toyota's most recent innovations which I thought that you might enjoy:
I was actually lucky enough to see this 'band' perform when I visited the corporation!

As energy-efficiency becomes an important part of the economic and political dialogue in our country, I wonder what policies could be made on the government and local levels which could encourage corporations to incorporate knowledge-creating management styles within their organizations to pursue energy sustainability. I wonder if it would be more effective for our government or a company to pursue the creative innovations which would lead to a more sustainable future. The culture of a company is important in encouraging creative innovation. Does the type (state or corporation) also matter?

Presidential Leadership Debate?

So, I don't know whether we decided to have a discussion about the leadership styles of the presidential candidates this Wednesday or not. As I have been a super nerd about following the campaign, I thought that I would share some information that I found regarding what others are saying about Obama and McCain's leadership styles. I hope that this will help get the brain juices flowing for the discussion, if we decide to have it. :)

An article about a speech Obama made at Northwestern's graduation regarding his leadership lessons (this article is done in 3 parts, so you have to click on the link on the left if you want to read all 3 parts)
Obama's leadership lessons outlined:
1. The world doesn't just revolve around you. Have empathy
2. Challenge yourself. Take some risks in your life.
3. Perseverance. Making a mark on this world is hard. It takes patience and perseverance, and failure is part of the job description. but you have to keep on plugging at it.

A comparison of Obama and McCain's leadership styles: http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-assess20-2008sep20,0,7459654.story

An analysis of the candidates' personality types according to Myers Brigg's personality test (there is also an analysis according to personality of Gore and Bush from 2004 linked on the same page, which i found interesting): http://www.slate.com/id/2184696/pagenum/all/