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, 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.,9171,1858880-1,00.html

Application of Leadership Theories to the Military

I just read an article on 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:

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!!