Wednesday, September 17, 2008

".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. `


  1. Ceira,

    I was just about to make a similar post!! I 100% agree. I believe that the distinction between social charismatic leadership and personal charismatic leadership is pivotal, though both pertain to the satisfaction of egoistic needs. Yet the former addresses the egoistic needs of the group and followers, whereas the latter is totally aggrandizing to an individual. If anything, King, Barack, FDR, and others reflect the dissemination of referent power through reflecting what already exists in the populace, rather than creating something new. Sometimes I wonder, why with African-Americans, the larger population often sees our achievements as the result of "anomalies" like Carver, or Booker T. Washington, or WEB Dubois, rather than these folks reflecting a critical mass of highly capable individuals. What does this say about the dominant culture's view of African-American's in general? Sorry to get so controversial, but I think that it is a valid question. Great leaders cannot be divorced from the population that birthed them, and the attempt to do so, may be more insidious than innocuous.

  2. "A step in the right direction is better than no step at all because it still symbolizes a conscious decision to change."Very good point. Totally agree.

    Faced with tough situation, sometimes people are just reluctant to make any conscious decision.Reasons might include mental laziness, avoidance of responsibility,fear of making mistake,or whatever. However, inaction is still a kind of action, since time and tide wait for no man.

  3. I think that Woody raises an important question.
    He asked, why society "often sees [African American] achievements as 'anomalies'[...] what does this say about the dominant culture's view of African-American's in general?"

    In my recent post, I discuss a situation in which groupthink created a way for preferences of race and gender for the sake of "diversity" could influence election results. I think many times in our society, the “how” we carry out a broader vision of good overlooked in favor of simply pursuing the vision.

    Historically and presently there has been discrimination and generational disparities which have contributed to the lack of African American leaders in prominent positions in broader society and the lack of visibility for those who have been made it to those positions. Recently in our society there has been a push towards "diversity," and with changes in attitudes and policies, historically disenfranchised people are becoming more empowered. However, it seems to me that sometimes there is such a focus on "diversity" that the heart of the idea, which to me is equality of opportunity and personal and social empowerment, becomes lost.

    For example, when "diversity" is promoted with corrupt practices, or when members of another group can be disenfranchised for the sake of “diversity,” “diversity” is no longer in line with its original meaning. In the case of my post, an African American nominee was given visible preference over other nominees in an election for the sake of "diversity." A combination of symptoms of groupthink and corrupt procedural practices veil key factors such as his qualifications and expertise for the position, and instead highlight his race. Although the nominee was most likely very qualified and deserving of his elected position, the procedural practices by which he obtained his position downplay the possibility of these positive leadership attributes. This kind of "diversity" does not empower, but rather, disempowers an individual from taking full credit for his ambitions and achievements.

    This is not only the case for race. Take, for example, how for so long, people discussed Hillary as a woman, rather than as a politician, undermining the fact that she was qualified in her own right to run as a presidential candidate. Similarly, there is a school of thought that people want to vote for Barack Obama in order to “prove” that they are not racist or feel good about voting for a black man. These ideas of “diversity” which have pervaded society into the ways which we think allow us to discount the leadership skills of those running for office positions. That many people make the point that McCain chose Governor Palin as his running mate merely because she was a woman, also discounts the fact that she is qualified (or unqualified?) in her own right. Rather, it can become obscured into an issue of she is a woman, thus, she should be given a chance to “break the glass ceiling” on merely that issue alone. Perhaps this is why so many African American, women, and other minority leaders are often seen as anomilies?

    The preceding outlines another reason it has become very important to study, analyze, and practice good leadership in the contemporary world. Poor leadership practices which can lead to group think and other corrupt organizational procedures, can lead to a continuation of discrimination and discounting of individuals and groups of people within society. In addition a poor definition of leadership allows us to accredit leadership values to those who may or may not have them.

  4. This interesting discussion has moved beyond the notion of charisma somewhat, so I will go back to it for a moment. What do we mean by "superstar"? Is it equated with superstar achievement and highly aligned qualifications for a position, or is it about celebrity and power? There appear to be different criteria for superstardom, with some (like demonstrated achievement) perhaps being more understandable than others (like having been in a sometimes unrelated position of power). Perhaps it's important to look at the motivations of the organizations seeking superstar hires, and what this might say about their own understanding of leadership and their own cultures.
    Just as a point of interest, one of the "superstars" mentioned in the Khurana article with skepticism was James Dimon, head of JPMorgan. Jamie Dimon is much in the news lately, as the government turns to his more steadily run firm for assistance in the current financial crisis.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.