Sunday, September 28, 2008

Milgram's Influence

There was a story on singer Dar Williams on NPR this morning; I was fascinated to hear her discuss her new song called "Buzzer" inspired by the Milgram experiments; you can listen to it here:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Leadership Theory and Gang Persistence

A cautionary note anchors this discussion. This discussion in no way promotes or justifies the formation and/or survival of gangs and/or gang related activities.

After reading for class, I turned on the TV and began to watch a program called Gangland on the History channel. The program primarily focused on the origin and workings of the Bloods, a gang based in New York with smaller affiliations predominately in New Jersey and Baltimore. In addition, the program also focused on the key leader of the gang, Omar Portee aka O.G. Mack. Different explanations were offered for the persistence of gangs despite efforts by multiple facets of law enforcement to dismantle these organizations. It is evident that the leadership and structure of gangs are instrumental in explaining the persistence of not just the Bloods but also various gangs across the country. Several aspects of charismatic leadership as well as specific characteristics of followers may provide insight to the origins of gangs and answer the questions of how and why they survive.

Choi explains key aspects of charismatic leadership, in which the leader is effective in addressing the followers’ need for power, affiliation, and achievement. In 1993 in Rikers Island, one of New York City’s largest jail facilities, O.G. Mack created the United Blood Nation (UBN) as a way to protect African American inmates from the Latin Kings, which was the most prevalent gang in the jail system at the time. Based on Choi’s conclusions, O.G. Mack was able to capitalize on African American inmates’ need for power in relation to that of the Latin Kings, need for affiliation with a group of inmates who shared common views, and finally their need for achievement within the prison system. Another critical aspect of gang formation coincides with the notion that followers are committed to the organization and to a purpose or principle (Kelly, 1988). In this particular case, Blood members were committed to the ultimate purpose of the organization, which was to create and maintain a network of protection. Although that was the primary purpose of the gang, as members were paroled and returned to their communities, the purpose of the organization steered in the direction of personal and to a lesser extent communal economic achievement. With this new purpose, the new wave of gang members were drawn in due to the leaders’ ability to effectively satisfy the needs of members who felt alienated from society based on racial and/or socioeconomic status. For these gang members, their affiliation with the UBN provided a source of empowerment and fostered their personal ideals of achievement. In a sentence, several aspects of charismatic leadership with respect to gang leaders are apparent in the formation of gangs.

In light of the discussion above, law enforcement officials usually pay close attention to the leaders of gangs with the perception that eliminating the source will inevitably dismantle the entire organization. Despite these efforts, which usually result in the incarceration of gang leaders, gangs continue to persist. The conclusions about the leadership relationship between leaders and followers as proposed by Rost offer a possible explanation for gang survival. Rost argues that followers can become leaders and vice versa in any leadership relationship. He also argues that only people who are active in the leadership process are followers. Accordingly, gang members who are active in the leadership process, though not formally recognized as leaders, have the potential to become the next leader in the event of absent leadership. The fluidity of the leadership continuum exhibited in the structure of gangs allows for gang members to assume leadership, thus sustaining the organization. It is pertinent to note that as a result of this leadership continuum, the potential for gangs to become institutionalized is not unlikely. Therefore despite changes in leadership, gangs are able to survive for years and in some cases decades.

Considering the leadership and structure of gangs, they should be perceived as having an organizational hierarchy similar to that of corporate companies. Within this framework, gangs have both an established chain of command and interchangeable leader and follower positions. In an organization where leadership is not static and there is a leadership relationship with active and effective followers, eradicating such an organization may be more complicated. Therefore, it is a na├»ve line of reasoning that eliminating the leadership of gangs will dismantle the organization. Similarly, firing the CEO and Board of Trust, will not dismantle an entire company if there are followers that are effective in assuming leadership. As many studies on gang suppression suggest, it may prove more effective to focus on prevention and/or remediation programs that address prospective and current gang members’ need for power, affiliation, and achievement.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Leadership Analysis of an Organization

The following is a critical analysis of the leadership within faith-based organization of which I have become aware through a direct source.

In an email preceding the first organizational leadership meeting nominees for an elected position, which would be voted upon and decided during the meeting, were named. All persons who had been nominated were of the male gender. It was humorously noted in the email that, although qualified females were present available, the nominations made were all male due to the fact that the current executive committee consisted entirely of females and “diversity [would be] a good thing.”
During the organizational leadership meeting, the nominees were asked to make a speech regarding their reasons for seeking the position. Afterwards, the nominees were led outside of the classroom in order to allow for voting to take place. Before voting began, the presiding officer of the election asked fellow voters if they would like to engage in discussion regarding the nominations. Going through the list of names, the presiding officer asked ‘if anyone had any thoughts they would like to share.’ Although few persons expressed desire to discuss the election matter, the officer continued to list out the names of the nominees, pausing briefly after each name to allow for any comments to be made. Towards the end of the list of nominees, the presiding officer paused after reading the name of the only African American nominee and briefly reemphasized the “need” for diversity. No other nominee was discussed in any extent in any context.
The vote, decided by a show-of-hands, determined the African American nominee as the new representative. Before bringing the nominees back into the room, the officer briefly reminded students of the “confidentiality” of voting procedures.

In an analysis of the organizational patterns described above, it is apparent that the leadership is in a critical need of reevaluation and reform. The organization’s actions in disqualifying qualified female candidates to an elected position, and showing a preference to a certain candidate solely on the basis of race are dangerous signals of the presence sexist and racist practices. Yet no group members made any apparent vocal objection to the organizational procedures. How did this happen?
The leadership behaviors of this organization manifested characteristics of groupthink. According to Janis, "laughing together about a danger signal, which labels it as a purely laughing matter," is a manifestation of groupthink (Janis, 1971). This is clearly present in the email sent to members of the group before the organizational meeting. Belittling the idea that women were excluded from an election in favor of “diversity” is a danger signal. The members of the group seemed to believe unquestioningly in an “inherent morality” of the group, and have allowed ethical and moral consequences of their actions to be ignored (Janis, 1971).
The presiding officer of the election further encouraged groupthink during the organizational meeting by initiating public discussions regarding the nominees. Group members were unlikely to voice descending opinions about either the nominees or discomfort with the lack professionalism in procedural matters due to “binding factors” such as politeness, awkwardness of withdrawal, and a desire to uphold initial promise of participation, which can trap a person into “concurrence seeking” norms (Milgram, 1974; Janis, 1971). Particularly in a public forum, an “illusion of unanimity” can become very dominant, encouraging group members with dissenting opinions to practice self-censorship (Scharff, 1995). The “illusion of unanimity” is strengthened by the school of thought that “any individual who remains silent [...] is in full accord with what others are saying” (Janis 1971). The show-of-hands voting procedure was another powerful endorsement of groupthink, as it is very difficult to escape powerful psychological pressures of a group particularly when one is voting publicly within a group.

This is a very pertinent example of why good leadership is needed, even in organizations which are not perhaps as prominent as the corporations or government operations we often read about within the context of our class. A continuation of groupthink behavior can lead to an overall culture of discontent within a group, despite members being unwilling to voice their dissent. It can lead unethical decision making and moral questions regarding the mission of the organization as a whole. Corrupt organizational procedures can also be detrimental to persons who became leaders through such means, regardless of lack of awareness to the situation and their qualifications and expertise.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

For the Law & Order SVU fans

Hello everyone,
Yes, I am posting at midnight on a Saturday night. I was just finishing up watching another Saturday of college football (including a Vandy victory to stay undefeated) when I stumbled upon yet another episode of Law & Order SVU on USA. I promise I am not just telling you all what I do on the weekends for no good reason. In this particular episode, Robin Williams makes an appearance as a very disturbed individual who believed that everyone in society has become "sheep" following "shepherds," doing as they are told and never questioning the system. As the show progresses, he takes one of the detectives, Olivia Benson, hostage. When her partner arrives, Robin Williams demands that he participate in a "real" version of the Milgram experiment or else Williams will blow up the entire building. He says that the only way he will let them both go is if the detective presses the button to shock his partner. The detective continually refuses to participate and Williams eventually confesses that the button did not actually shock her and that there was no bomb in the building. Williams also thanked the detective for being a "human," because in his past experience, cops and doctors were the ones who most abused the power as "shepherds." Just in case you were wondering how the show ends, Williams does actually blow up the building once the three of them are safely outside, which allowed him to escape their custody.

I thought it was interesting to see the Milgram experiment show up in a current, very popular television show and wanted to share my viewing experience with all of you. I hope everyone is having a great weekend and I will see you all on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A few more remarks to make on today's class.

"Organization emerges from nowhere but communication." I like this notion,and the idea of "emerge" in particular.We've been talking about the formation of the organizational vision: Where does it come from? Does the leader conceive it on his/her own or is it resulted from the interaction between the leader and the followers? I think one thing we need to keep in mind when addressing this kind of questions is the numerous types of organizations and leadship there can be.Leadership is so inclusive a concept that sometimes it's easy to overlook its nuances in meaning when used in different contexts.Again, definition matters.

Literally, every organzation presents a unique picture. The way vision is formed varies accordingly as variables such as organizational purpose and members'expectation of organizational effectiveness change.To have a clearer sense of the nature of the organization under discussion (which serves as the basis of further analysis) ,it might be a good idea to begin with questions like "why do people join this organization in the first place?" As some of you have pointed out in class, sometimes people choose to join a group and follow a certain leader because they share his/her professed vision. More often this happens to informal organizations and grass-root leaders.

".Superstar CEO"

Upon reflection of the latest articles for class discussing charismatic leadership, I have noticed a rather detrimental pattern that my undergraduate alma mater, Fisk University, exudes whenever a new person is placed into a position of power. For example, the current President of Fisk University, Hazel O’Leary came into office in 2004. There was much discussion about what she could bring to the university because of her background, especially her position as Secretary of Energy during William Clinton’s presidency. Fisk University, being in a constant state of financial crisis, needed a leader to bring Fisk out of the financial turmoil and into some form of stability. Looking back, President O’Leary was viewed as a "superstar CEO" by the university. Everyone hoped she would be the savior and save the university.

With the "Superstar CEO" mentality mentioned in the article by Rakesh Khurana, all responsibility is surrendered to the person in charge, including the blame if need be. Depending on the outcome of the organization depicts whether the "Superstar CEO" will be seen as a hero, one who conquered all, or as a villain, a mere scapegoat (Khurana, 2002). This ideology coincided with Stanley Milgram’s article on obedience in reference to the legitimate authority. Once the followers view the authority figure as "legitimate" then individual responsibility is no longer considered necessary. Followers will then attribute their actions to the authority figure; they were simply following instruction (Milgram, 1974). Because everything is construed as at the mercy of the authority figure, the follower may view his or herself as a mere vessel to execute the leader’s vision and/or work.

Unfortunately, Khurana also included many examples of how this perception is skewed because oftentimes placing the larger than life authority head on a pedestal only leaves ample space below to tumble down (Khurana, 2002). After four years serving as president, Fisk University is still in the same state, if not worse, than when President O’Leary came into office. The president of Fisk seems to be trying to hoist the entire university on her shoulders. She cannot possibly save the university by herself, right? Is it even fair to ask her to assume that role by herself? Why would people sacrifice their own choice (dare I say obligation) to contribute to accomplishing goals that affect everyone?

In Clayborn Carson’s discussion about Martin Luther King Jr., he made a valid point that while many people idolize King, he did not wage the war on civil rights by himself. There were many unspoken leaders and contributors to the movement that made their decisions on their own; not because of King (Carson, 1987). This demonstrates that while there may be someone serving as a "face" for an organization or movement, that it is not solely their actions that makes a difference, but a collective effort. Instead of sitting back and waiting for someone to come save us, why not take action to improve what we can for ourselves? That is the message I would transmit to Fisk University, to people thinking their vote does not count, or anyone who feels that they cannot make a difference. A step in the right direction is better than no step at all because it still symbolizes a conscious decision to change. `

Monday, September 8, 2008


If you haven't yet, everyone should read Woody's post below. It is fantastic.

In a related vein, this morning's Today show included an interview with Bob Woodward on his newest book "The War Within" (video link here). I kind of tuned in halfway through, right as Matt Lauer brought up an example from the book of a time when military advisors told President Bush that the troop surge in Iraq would require deployment of two brigades of troops. The President, in turn, decided to deploy five brigades instead. Matt Lauer said that he had some qualms about this particular decision, but he went on to say "But that's leadership, isn't it?" I immediately thought of last week's readings and wondered- is it? Without getting into any sort of partisan or even war-related discussion- how does the act of substituting your own judgement for that of others, be they "followers" or other leaders, fit into the process of leadership? I would think that it must be necessary sometimes, particularly if your role is to be the guardian of the goals and values of an organization. But is that leadership, or just something that a leader sometimes does? Are those two interchangeable? And how much do the ideas of human limitation and delegation (which Woody mentioned were missing from last week's readings) come into play?

Substituting your own judgement would, no doubt, be the very definition of leadership if we all subscribed to the Great Man theory, but when looking at leadership as a process, how does that sort of decision fit in?

Just something I'm thinking about today...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Leaders Finding Leaders



Woodrow Lucas

Heifitz, Burns, Mcgregor, and Selznick, intersect in their rejection of the obfuscating and dichotomous argument of whether leaders are born or made, and embrace more useful definitions to include but not limited to adaptive work, resource mobilization, social change agency, and the instigation of practical and moral evolution (Burns, 1978; Heifitz, 1991; McGregor, 1966; Selznick, 1975). These four authors aptly depict leadership as an activity rather than an a priori state, and at least imply that as an activity it can be nurtured, taught, and facilitated.

Burns and later Gardener assert that both leaders and followers are subject to “political and cultural” forces (Burns, 1978; Gardener 1990) and that leaders and followers interdependently share a common destiny, yet all of the authors conspicuously omit the reality that leaders can foster other leaders to share their vision. In other words, all of the analysis treat leadership as an individual phenomena, when it essence it may be “groups” of leaders or” leaders who lead leaders that subsequently lead followers” that most substantively influence organizations and societies toward good ends. “Strengths Based Management” provides a heuristic lens through which we can understand how leaders can create and lead other leaders. A strengths based management approach enables a leader to discover subordinates and/or peers sympathetic to an effective and evolutionary agenda, consequently increasing their effectiveness.

Martin Seiigmann and Edward Diener were among the first to propose the notion that effective management endeavors to focus on “aspects of work organization that lead to success rather than correct failures” (Smedley, 2007). This notion soon evolved into what is now termed “Strengths Based Management”, a management style and praxis that seeks to discern and capitalize on inherent organizational and individual strengths rather than spending energy on remediating deficits. The consensus opinion among most of this week’s authors that there should be a teleological sense of meaning, purpose, and value to leadership rather than a value-neutral sense of “influence” suggests that “true” leadership discerns as well as persuades. Heifitz’ adaptive work model connotes a “challenge” to followers to engage critical issues which face them (Hefitz, 1998). Strengths Based Management also challenges followers and other leaders to engage critical issues, but with a focus on their individual and collective capacity to overcome said issues rather than simply a collective acknowledgement that issues exist.

A working model of adaptive work entails perhaps a different kind of perception, in which one can dialectically discern the best intentions, motivations, and actions among people and mobilize around them. In a sense the effective leader is in touch with the “collective mind” of the people, but has the ability to learn from de facto reality and historical hindsight to sift what is helpful from what is ultimately useless or harmful. Yet notions of delegation and human limitation are neglected in this week’s readings. Can one leader do it all? Or do they need other like-minded leaders? Strengths Based Management is a tool of discernment that equips a leader to discern the best about not only followers, but enables them to detect other leaders who serve the same transformative agenda. By seeing their own assets and then discovering those assets in others, strengths based management empowers the leader to be “part of” rather than “responsible for” effective, positive, and sustainable change.