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.