Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Once a Leader, Always a Leader?

Going to my 10-year high school reunion this weekend, reminded that about the roles in leadership in adolescence. For some high school was the best years of their lives, while for others high school was something they would love to forget. What is interesting to consider is who were the leaders in high school, and are those still leaders today? If we were born leaders, then wouldn’t we always be leaders?

The Senior Class Officers of the Class of 1999 planned the event. They were elected leaders of the class that year, but were they still leaders today? Who were now the leaders in this class? One of the officers is an orthodontist, another an owner of a Curves gym in Egypt, another a lawyer, one never finished his college degree and was taking side jobs to pay the bills, another didn’t even come out to the event. So were these people still leaders in their community?

While all of them continued to have that charisma that Choi (2006) mentions as a quality of leadership, they did not all have the other qualities of the charismatic leader. They were not showing empathy or empowering others, they seemed to have a vision for their life, but not one to share with others.

The next question I thought to myself was, were they ever really leaders? They held positions of leadership, but that does not qualify them as effective leaders. Did they actually have followers? Did they ever inspire or influence anyone? Were they in a position of power, but not a leader? If this was the case, then they maybe it wasn’t about being a leader, but being charismatic and popular. Now that high school is over and the popularity contest presents itself in limited opportunities, leaders may be able to be identified more clearly for their traits like Choi (2006) and Hackman and Johnson (1991) mention like the ability to envision, empathize, influence, and communicate.

According to Burns (1968), a transformational leader is someone who brings followers up from within. The person who now owns a Curves gym in Egypt was also voted Most Congenial senior year. She was empathetic towards others and did inspire people from her actions and her sentiments. She showed leadership qualities in high school, and seems to continue to be leading others today.

This leads me to believe that she had those leadership traits all along and continues to be a leader growing stronger with experience and expertise, where some of the others only had charisma. Khurana (2002) mentions how we can be blinded by charisma. I believe the combination of charisma with other traits can be a strong leader, but charisma in and of itself can only produce something in the short-term. Eventually there has to be more. According to Sashkin (1989), “the true visionary leader can vision over a time span of 10-20 years” (p. 405). She’s well on her way ten years later.

P.S. I was an SGA Officer. J

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Authentic Leadership?"

Bill George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, former chair and CEO of Medtronic, and board member of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and Novartis, wrote an article about leadership for U.S. News in November 2008, just as the financial crisis had struck. His article is titled “Failed Leadership Caused the Financial Crisis,” and in it he claims the fall off Lehman, AIG, etc. “were not caused by complex financial instruments. They result from failures in leadership.” Whereas Mr. George points to avarice and irresponsibility on the part of the financial industry’s leadership as the main cause of the economic meltdown, I think it is more prudent to say that while leadership played a role, investment strategy was most highly at fault and, moreover, it was most likely a combination of the two and not leadership alone.

So far the focus of our class has been to take in and understand the full canon of leadership theory, but – aside from Great Man theory and Distributed Leadership theory – we have rarely made value judgments on the ideas. Mr. George, however, believes the heads of the major institutions failed to exhibit proper leadership because their companies failed. What he seems to mean, however, is that the strategies implemented by these leaders were not in the best interests of the companies or their shareholders.

After a semester of studying leadership, I have come to believe that failed leadership would look more like a breakdown in communication or a poorly executed vision – not necessarily the holding of a “bad” agenda. Nearly all of the leadership theories, but especially Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership and Kelly/Roth’s Followership articles emphasize the importance of leadership as a communicative endeavor and therefore less dependent upon the leader’s vision or agenda and more related to how he or she expresses it over the long run.
Mr. George shares a list of five points describing what he calls “authentic leadership:”

1. They should be authentic leaders, focused on serving their clients and all the institution's constituents, rather than charismatic leaders seeking money, fame, and power for themselves.
2. They should place the interests of their institutions and society as a whole above their own interests.
3. They should have the integrity to tell the whole truth, admit their mistakes, and acknowledge their shortcomings. Authentic leadership is not about being perfect. It is having the courage to admit when you're wrong and to get on with solving problems, rather than covering them up.
4. They need to adapt quickly to new realities, changing themselves as well as their institutions, rather than going into denial when things don't go as intended.
5. They need the resilience to bounce back after devastating losses. Resilience enables leaders to restore trust by empowering people to create new solutions that build great institutions for the future.

I believe his theory of “authentic leadership” is overly condemning of Wall Street’s leadership. Clearly there were major strategic flaws – it was unwise to invest so heavily in mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps created a web of vulnerability that investors continued to buy into. These were critical strategic problems. I cannot agree with Mr. George, however, that these leader’s strategic decisions represent a failure in leadership.

In ways, this discussion relates to the issue of defining leadership. Had Mr. George written that the economic crisis resulted in failed leadership (and not discussed strategic shortcomings), it would be conceivable to view his definition of leadership as one that is inclusive of strategy. Since he deliberately outlined a prescription for “authentic leadership,” though, and included discussion of strategy in his article, it is clear that he intends to criticize the moral stature and motivation of leaders – and furthermore suggests that their investment strategies were indicative of their moral failures. Mr. George’s giant leap – that bad investments evidence bad leadership does nothing but inappropriately oversimplify the situation.

Do you think leadership alone is at fault?

George, Bill. "Failed Leadership Caused the Financial Crisis - US News and World Report." US News & World Report - Breaking News, World News, Business News, and America's Best Colleges - USNews.com. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Sobering Reality Is, Leadership Today is Not that Funny

To celebrate the upcoming holiday, I chose to take some time to catch up on one of my favorite shows, 30 Rock. Ready for a night of laughter, I picked a random episode to watch online. That’s when it happened. Leadership theory, in all its glory, reminded me that its presence is everywhere. In a previous episode the fictional head of the NBC network, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), asked Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) to add a new cast member to her show, TGS. He wanted someone who could attract “real American” viewers because NBC needed a boost in revenue. Liz, resentful of Jack for his elitist perspective, conspires with a co-worker to rig the audition. Feeling torn about this decision, the following dialogue ensued:

Liz: “Come on guys, these are people up here with feelings and mothers who worry about them.”

Jack: “Lemon, stop right there. You are on top of the pyramid…you can’t let emotions distract you from making decisions about the slaves who built the pyramid”.

Liz: “Geez, sorry I’m not a robot.”

Jack: “We all are. But we are getting there. In ten years, this entire network will be all but the size of a microchip. Until then, you’re in charge. Think like a robot—be logical and dispassionate.”

And with those words, my night of non-academic fun time went down the drain. My mind couldn’t help but drift from the humor this show normally brings to the startling reality it was commenting on. Is that how followers in the business world see their leaders? As non-empathetic individuals who brush aside the needs of their followers for ratings and a fattened profit margin? Yet 30 Rock, in its comedic fashion, asserts that this is exactly how business, at least show business, continues to be conducted.

Where, in Jack’s leadership style, is Choi’s (2006) idea of charismatic leaders utilizing empathy to understand the needs of followers so to help them meet their objectives? What about Goleman’s (2000) assertion that “empathy allows the affiliative leader to respond in a way that is highly congruent with that person’s emotions, thus building rapport”? And characterizing followers as “slaves”? Whew, what a way to show complete disinterest in fostering a positive leader-follower relationship many theorists describe as inherently important in leading others(Burns, Selznick, Stogdill, Geneen, Goleman, Choi, Rost, Kelly, Goodpastor, Sendjaya, Greenleaf, Smith et al.)?

The absence of such leadership characteristics as positive regard for followers, utilization of empathy, and acknowledgement of an ethical responsibility to society is exactly what the show criticizes. Indeed, the approach Jack takes to leadership is one that Milton Friedman (1970) would be proud of. Rather than caring about the needs of society, the only responsibility corporate executives have is “to make as much money as possible”. If this is a metric for assessing Jack’s leadership style, then I guess one could say he exceeds expectations. But at what cost to his followers, to society?

To conclude, the underlying implication for this comedic criticism of leadership is really not that funny. If millions of viewers worldwide are laughing at the assertion that today’s business leaders are mere “robots” looking only to expand their bottom line then perhaps there is a real dilemma in how business is conducted. Is this really how society views our leaders, as a punch line to a sick joke on society? Or is the punch line that viewers assume this is how corporate leaders act (and thus tune in to watch)? Regardless, corporate executives are happy. After all, if one’s responsibility is to the profit margin why really worry about what sells at all?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leadership Style Re-Invigorates "Original Six" Franchise

Growing up in Chicago, I have always been a pretty big hockey fan. The Chicago Blackhawks are the toast of the town and that can be attributed to John F. McDonough. John McDonough is the President of the Chicago Blackhawks. He became President in 2007. McDonough took over as President of a franchise that was so out touch with the public and had cut ties with people/companies long affiliated with the team. Since his reign as President began, the Blackhawks franchise has had a new life breathed into it. They have become the successful "Original Six" team that they were in the past.

As the turnaround of the organization has been contemplated, so has McDonough's leadership style. He has appeared to have the right traits (DePree), situation (Goleman), and context (Selznick) in which to succeed. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, tenants of McDonough's philosophy of leadership have been listed. These tenants include, “Relationships and personality are essential keys to success; Embrace failure. It's the residue of creativity and innovation; and Leaders are never afraid to take blame or acknowledge the success of others". http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/chi-19-haugh-side-nov19,0,1505009.story

McDonough's leadership style relates to numerous theories we've discussed in class.

McDonough came to the Blackhawks from the Chicago Cubs, where he helped to make the Cubs an even more fan friendly franchise. When he came over to the Blackhawks organization, he had to convince the other front office members (the followers) that his new vision would be the best solution to solving the problems the organization was facing (Heifitz, 1994). Gardner mentions power when he says that leaders have the power to set the agenda, which then enables them to mobilize their followers (Gardner, 1990), which related to one of McDonough’s tenants of leadership. This part of his idea of leadership says “Relationships and personality are essential keys to success” which also ties in with the new vision idea. McDonough had to mobilize his followers, by establishing relationships with them in order for them to follow his new vision to attain success in the organization.

Like Selznick, Burns and Heifitz have discussed, McDonough was able to motivate the other members of the organization to buy into his new way of thinking and successfully start to turn the organization around. As McDonough began to implement his new plans for the Chicago Blackhawks, people began to buy into this plan and became dedicated to the new vision as well (Sashkin, 1989).

It has been two years since McDonough has been President of the Chicago Blackhawks. His new vision of where the take the franchise in the future has already been deeply ingrained into the franchise culture. His idea of leadership has helped to successfully re-invigorate what appeared to be an out of touch and secluded hockey franchise.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Unethical Leadership

On 7th January 2009, Satyam’s founder and Chairman B. Ramalinga Raju admitted that he had systematically falsified accounts as the company expanded from a handful of employees into a back-office giant with a large work force and operations in 66 countries.

Satyam Computer Services was a leading software consultancy, system integration and outsourcing firm in India with clients across 65 countries. It was later taken over by Tech Mahindra Ltd. in April 2009. As Cadbury says in his article, “The character of a company is a matter of importance to those in it, to those who do business with it, and to those who are considering joining it”. A part of this was clearly evident when late last year the World Bank barred Satyam from doing business with it for eight years over "improper benefits" paid to staff. Later, as news of the scam broke out, Satyam lost many other clients to its competitors.

In the four-and-a-half page letter that Mr. Raju wrote to make his confession, he described a small discrepancy that grew beyond his control. He wrote “What started as a marginal gap between actual operating profit and the one reflected in the books of accounts continued to grow over the years. It had attained unmanageable proportions as the size of company operations grew”. His reasoning was that he was trying to save Satyam and similar to what Gellerman describes - a belief that the activity was within reasonable ethical and legal limits….. that it was in the best interest of the corporation.

Satyam’s debacle once again proved what WorldCom and Enron have proven in the past--- leaders can lead their organizations towards glory or disaster. Many theorists like Sims and Brinkmann; and Barnard believe this happens as the leader’s personal values shape the organizational ethics. Some leaders fail to operate from what McCoy calls “a thoughtful set of personal values that provide the foundation for a corporate culture”.

This role of the leader’s values in creating organizational culture is very important in the business world today which is very complex and is constantly throwing challenges at organizations. Peter Senge talks about how organizations need to develop the ability to learn continuously to survive. This continuous learning, according to him, requires transformation of the organizational culture and it’s the role of the leader to facilitate this transformation. Such a leader would help his employees recognize their unquestioned assumptions about the market; customers; the way things work etc., and help them entertain the possibility that they could be wrong. Such a leader would create a climate where failures and mistakes would be openly discussed ….because that is how human beings and organizations learn, by opening up and contemplating on their mistakes and improving them with the help of others.

Therefore, I think, that a leader, who is not open to disclosing and discussing with his employees, the problems the organization is facing, will lead an organization to disaster because he would be preventing his employees and the organization from becoming ‘learners’ and a ‘learning organization’ respectively. As he would be lacking values such as transparency and reflection, he would fail to shape a culture that fosters individual and organizational learning. I would call such a leader unethical even though he may not end up committing a fraud. What are your thoughts?

Implications of Generation Y on Leadership

In the recent years many people have written articles and even books on the new generation of employees entering the workplace, Generation Y. This new generation of employees has very different values and expectations than previous generations we have seen. The young business professionals of this generation are characterized as being very technology savvy, wanting information and results immediately, are money driven, have a sense of entitlement and are very diverse. They value rapid career growth, learning, work/life balance and corporate social responsibility. They are entering a workplace that is multi-generational, sharing their workspaces and competing for jobs with veterans, boomers and X generations that have traditionally valued and expected very different things in the workplace. The difference between generations got me thinking and proposed many questions. Are companies changing their leadership models to adapt to this new generation of employees, or do company’s models always stay the same? Do the same theories that we have been discussing in our class hold true today for leaders dealing with followers in Generation Y? How do leaders remain effective in this new rapidly changing and diverse workplace?

After reading through some articles (sited below) and a few websites (shrm.org & businessweek.com) a few common recommendations came up for leaders of Generation Y employees. Some of the recommendations included, being flexible and adaptable in ones leadership style and being aware of what factors motivate each generation, using these to be able to motivate followers to produce desired results. They also recommend that leadership should promote a heavy concentration on building communication skills and be able to demonstrate authenticity in their leadership.

These recommendations for a model of leadership in this new generation of employees started to look very similar to the models we having been discussing throughout the semester. Reflecting on these recommendations, they touch on understanding leadership from a communication standpoint (Burns, Hackman & Johnson, Bernard, Gardner). They touch on theorist points of leadership as being able to motivate followers to achieve goals and being able to focus on individual development (McGregor, Stogdill, Gardner, Burns, Zaleznik). They also reflect on authenticity in theories that we have discussed such as in servant leadership (Greenleaf) and transformational leadership (Burns). Lastly, they are touching on the flexibility in leadership by leadership depending on the situation and/or context (Heifitz, Cronin, Goleman).

Therefore, do you think that ones model of leadership should or needs to change when dealing with different generations of people? How are companies training Generation Y to be the next generation of leaders? Will this look different then what they have done for previous leaders due to the Generation Y’s values and expectations? And lastly, what are the implications for Generation Z and future generations to come? What can leaders take away from Generation Y to help prepare themselves for future generations?


Smith, S. (2005/2006). Employers and the New Generation of Employees. Community College Journal, 76(3), 9-13.

Wagner, D. (2007). Managing an Age-Diverse Workplace. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48(4), 8-10.

Weinstein, M. (2009). Next-Generation Leaders. Training, 46(4), 17-19.

The Lady Leader

As we are concluding our discussions on defining and exploring leadership, I have found myself wondering what the role gender plays into the definition of leadership at the corporate level. I am particularly curious what the class makes of this, especially considering our class is primarily women (although boys, Al included, I will say have been extremely vocal with regards to all topics). For the most part, all of our readings (even those far dating all of us) are politically correct to not gender-ize leadership. For the most part, it appears that leadership is a combination of traits (DePree), situation (Goleman), and context (Selznick). But I can’t help but wonder if all the characteristics, situations, and contexts which contribute to a successful and effective leader, must be scaled differently depending upon gender. And if it does, does this directly imply that leadership is perhaps more anchored in trait theory (if we can even call gender a trait at all…) than initially thought?

We have spoken on leaders being empathetic, envisioning, and empowering (Choi). But I think that this is limited when speaking upon specific leaders. Often women who are seen as overly empathetic are perceived as overly sensitive and lacking aggression. In contrast, those women who display strict goals and some of the more aggressive tactics, ones that their male counterparts identically mirror, are seen as cutthroat, merciless and witches. My experience with women executives leaders has been limited. But for the most part, I have seen they are perceived as ruthless . Men are in contrast seen as driven and successful. Why is this? And what does it imply for future female leaders? What is the solution for working towards improving the perception of female leaders? I think that the glass ceiling that was in the past more present has cracked, but at the upper executive level, I think is far from being shattered.

As we are working towards characterizing a leader, I think that sometimes our definitions are catered towards the definition of the “male” leader (though I acknowledge not entirely). I don’t think that women can exercise usage of powers (Hughes) as freely as men are able to in the same degree. Coercive power is far more difficult for women to utilize than perhaps it is for men (regardless of its effectiveness). Also along with power, I believe that referent power needs to play a much higher role than legitimate power, simply because often subordinate males still prove to be more resistant to responding to such types of power. In much the same, charisma plays a much larger role in a women’s role as a leader than it may in a male’s role as a leader.

My main question that I am trying to answer is while we are working to qualify leadership, are we taking everything into consideration? Does gender even play a role at all in perception of leadership and thus the effectiveness of leadership? Does being a successful women take away from their status as feminine (such as Carly Fiorina, or even Hilary Clinton)? What types of leadership execution needs to (or unconsciously does) vary or yield depending upon gender?

PERSONAL NOTE: I am not a feminist male-hating individual and instead greatly appreciate the successes of our male counterpart in the progress of the workworld.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The World's Most Powerful People

The World’s Most Powerful People

As I was searching for a topic for this last blog post, I found myself on Forbes.com, “Homepage for the World’s Business Leaders.” Surely with a title like that, they must know a thing or two about leadership. Sure enough, right on their homepage was a link to their list of the “World’s Most Powerful People,” and I set out to find what their criteria were, and if this could turn out to be a list of the most well-known leaders of the world. After all, the link takes you to section of the site called “Leadership.”

The list is comprised of “67 heads of state, criminals, financiers, and philanthropists who really run the world.” So far, these sound like leaders to me. I read on to find their four dimensions that define power:

1. Influence over lots of other people
2. Control over large financial resources compared with peers
3. Powerful in multiple spheres – projecting influence in multiple ways
4. Actively use their power

Countless numbers of our readings have included influence and power in analyses of leadership. Heifitz writes about leaders influencing people to accept the leader’s vision without coercion. He means that it is the leader’s job to convince the followers that the vision he or she has set is the best solution to solving the problems the organization is facing (Heifitz, 1994). Similar to Heifitz, Gardner mentions power when he says that leaders have the power to set the agenda, which then enables them to mobilize their followers (Gardner, 1990). Stogdill would agree with #4 that leaders must be active, since leadership is a working relationship wherein the leader is an active participant. He says that “leadership implies activity, movement, getting work done.” This would mean that a leader must be using his or her power or influence at all times with the goal of accomplishing a task (Stogdill, 1948). Hughes explicitly outlines different types of power and defines influence a leader has over followers. He defines power as the capacity to produce effects on others or the potential to influence. A leader will use influence tactics to change a follower’s beliefs or behaviors. He then explains the five different types of power: expert power, referent power, legitimate power, reward power, and coercive power (Hughes, 1993). Surely if we went down the entire Forbes list, we would find many examples of each of these types of power. These readings, among many others I’m sure I have omitted, are important in distinguishing a “powerful person” from a leader. Many theorists (Hughes, Gardner, Stogdill) would argue that a leader has power, whether it is just to set the goals for the organization, or if it is the power of a leader’s knowledge the gives him or her authority over the followers.

I would personally argue that while Forbes’ “power dimensions” are not a definition of leadership in themselves, they have hit on two major points we have discussed in our own search for the definition. I would, however, leave #3 out because I don’t think that relative control of financial resources is a necessary attribute of a leader. I am glad that Forbes chose to title their list “World’s Most Powerful People” and not “The World’s Most Influential Leaders” because I think their intent was really to highlight the power these people possess, and not their leadership traits, skills, or style. Though power and influence is important to leadership, those two factors alone do not make up a leader. This list is still important because it shows how the influence or power held by only 67 people can have an impact on nearly every one of the other 6,700,000,000 people on this planet.

If you look at the complete list at http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/11/worlds-most-powerful-leadership-power-09-people_land.html you will see familiar names. At the top of the list is our country’s leader, President Barack Obama. In addition to many other heads of state, also on the list are Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, both Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, Pope Benedict XVI, and Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil). It’s quite an impressive list, and we could spend another full semester deciding whether or not these people are leaders.

I think it is safe to say that not all leaders have to be powerful in the way Forbes describes, since leaders can have a smaller impact on the world, but do you think all really powerful people are leaders?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Becca Stevens: Leadership & The Magdalene Women

In 2008, police in Nashville charged more than 1300 women with prostitution. Some of the lucky ones have found a way out of destitution and addiction through a Nashville-based program called The Magdalene Project.

Envisioned and founded in 1997 by Becca Stevens, Episcopal priest and Vanderbilt Chaplain, The Magdalene Project mobilizes people and resources to provide hope, help, and homes for prostitutes (Heifitz, 1988). Grounded in love, Stevens positively models Greenleaf’s “servant leadership” (1977) as she makes sure the greatest of needs of her followers are addressed first— to get them off the street and to safety. Steven’s demonstrates Selznick’s (1975) practical idea that leadership is a “kind of work done to meet the needs of a social situation.”

Becca’s goal is to help this sub-culture of women and to change greater cultural beliefs that females can be bought and sold. With Magdalene, women get into a safe, compassionate and disciplined community. Becca’s attempt to change the culture from one of degradation to one of valuing women exhibits the cultural change aspect of leadership described by Schein (1985). By turning values into reality, Stevens exemplifies visionary leadership (Sashkin 1989; Choi, 2006). We see transformational leadership as she helps elevate followers with “rising up through levels of morality” to a better life (Bass and Avolio, 1994; Burns, 1978).

Becca’s servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977) continued when she saw that women needed more than just a safe place to live. Starting Thistle Farms in 2001 as a non-profit off-shoot, the women now work and learn responsibility and commitment. The business involves their hand-crafting and home-selling of holistic bath and body products—providing women with much-needed and appreciated job skills and a huge dose of self-esteem. This way, Stevens provides women a platform for moral values and creative work, as Barnard (1938) and Selznick (1975) described in their leadership writings. Product sales funnel back into the program and help keep it going. We see McGregor’s Theory Y notion (1960) here that people will be self-directed about achieving organizational objectives as long as they are committed. Magdalene women are committed to their healing and growth by doing a good job while on the job.

Becca’s actions are grounded in her inner calling that “love is the most powerful force for change in the world” (www.thistlefarms.org). With over nine additional leadership theorists/authors cited, it is Becca’s servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977) that stands out for me. Her actions have led more than 200 women to a better life--women who formerly had little to no hope. Estimates by the United Way (personal communication, 2009) estimate that between 70-80% of women graduate and never return to a life street walking.

If these figures were not available, is there any question of Becca’s leadership actions around a difficult social issue? Do you see other leadership theories working in the life of Reverend Becca Stevens? If so, do you think any of them overshadow her display of servant leadership?

Monday, November 9, 2009

We found the leaders!

It seems that humans have been trying for quite some time to determine who is a leader, or at least what is indicative of a leader. Everything from personality and achievement tests, as well as behavioral interviews and in-depth observation has been tried. Still the root of leader, presuming one exists, remains elusive. However, let’s imagine that we have found the indicator of leadership ability- and it’s a tangible thing. For the purpose of this blog entry, all left handed people have leadership ability (my mom is a leftie-she would be so proud!). Now that we have found these people, we can develop them, right?

During class I had been wondering what would happen if we answered the question about how to identify those with leadership ability so that it would then be possible to cultivate such ability. So now that we’ve hypothetically identified people with leadership talent, now comes the question of it can be developed into something that the person can utilize in a productive way. We now know that all of the lefties are potential leaders and that the ability is present. How do we go about developing their ability? Do we treat it like innate musical ability, providing lessons and space for creativity, unfettered by other activities? Or is like athletic ability, where we encourage and require practice of the discipline and competition among others? Or is it more like the capacity for language and literacy, where learning the basics is the beginning to an almost limitless set of words and cultures? Can it be taught like a college major that is skills driven, such as accountancy, where upon showing your leftie-ness, you engage in theory based courses and practical internships?

From our readings for this week, Robert Fulmer in “The Evolving Paradigm of Leadership Development” discusses that leadership development is an on-going process, suggesting that the above ways of cultivating ability would not work for leadership. Also he delves into the concepts of creating leaders who can create a future and nurture other leaders, a concept that we have also discussed in class. Perhaps then these leftie leaders should engage in peer teaching and learning, because of the flexible nature of leadership. Using Fulmer’s ideas, one could say that we would need to devote a lifetime to the leadership development of our lefties, much like we do now, despite not actually knowing if anyone has innate leadership ability. Maybe it doesn’t truly matter if we know that someone has leadership ability…

To conclude I ask, is the true question how to identify those with leadership skills, or what to do with them once we find them?

Collective Intelligence or Colossal Distraction?

In another class I have with Dr. Robbins, we discussed collective intelligence and crowd sourcing. In short:

Collective Intelligence: pooling existing social knowledge through networking, enabled by communications technology, where users generate their own content. Think Wikipedia.

Crowd Sourcing: employers or organizations assign tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a “crowd.” The public may be invited to develop a new technology (remember when LG offered a reward for the best design for its new phone?); innocentive.com is a thriving open marketplace for solutions to problems of all kinds and at all prices.

We concluded that these phenomena are not only permanent, but are making permanent changes in the infrastructure of organizations. MIT even hosts its Center for Collective Intelligence to conduct research on how communications technologies are changing they way people work together. How do the leadership theories we have studied fare in today’s organization where CI and CS are on the uptake? For one thing, it provides a healthy check on groupthink. (Irving 1971). It’s hard to avoid an outsider’s perspective when idea development is open to the public.

But how does the exponential change in access to information that almost any “follower” has today look in the frameworks of, say, McGregor’s work?

McGregor would whole-heartedly support CI/CS. He says development within an organization should involve many rather than a few and that it should focus on unique capacities rather than common objectives (1966). While players in a CS network are working toward a common objective, CS hinges on the unique capabilities of crowd members. CI/CS opportunities count on Theory Y (1960) being in action – those who participate are doing so for self-fulfillment (even if that fulfillment comes in the form of money or glory). People are, as McGregor states, self-directing their own achievement of objectives that they are committed to.

But what abut CI/CS opportunities outside of one’s organization: Do these create a leadership dilemma? If leaders are motivating followers in their organizations toward a common goal or mission (Burns 1978; Heifitz 1994; Selznick 1957; Sashkin 1989) then do countless and easily accessible opportunities for collaboration and innovation pose dangerous competition for follower attention?

I think these trends that are altering the workplace, the university, and society present a whole new set of challenges for leaders in harnessing a focus in their followers while also fostering cognitive development. This opportunity would, I think, come back to the organization as a value in the form of an effective, critically thinking, active follower (Kelly 1988), but one who spends time and energy on goals unrelated to the organization.

For Burns (1978), as another example, it seems the leader should be open to his/her followers’ pursuit of such opportunities as an enabler of self-actualization. But where does that leave the follower’s devotion to the organization’s goals?

This dilemma has no doubt been around for as long as the theories in the form of any kind of distraction. But CI/CS presents a developmentally valuable, monetarily rewarding, structured framework for distraction. How might other theorists respond to this challenge?

So What Does Google Think??

So we are getting to the end of the wire... and as we are all trying to come up with our own models of leadership and opinions of whether or not it can be taught, I thought why not look into what Google thinks about this. We ask Google everything else, right?

I was fortunate enough to come across an interview conducted on August 18, 2009 with Evan Wittenberg, head of Global Leadership Development at Google. He makes some very interesting and intriguing comments about Google's opinion of leadership and asks many of the same questions we have asked throughout this course. Overall, Wittenberg describes Google's opinion of leadership with the following: "It's not authority based leadership. It's credibility, it's innovation, it's influence. It's the kinds of things anybody at any level could use to be more effective and help Google." Their view of leadership aligns with the values of their organization (Burns, Selznick, Heifitz). He goes on to say this is possible because everyone is dedicated and passionate about the vision. (Sashkin, 1989). This idea reminds me of Choi's model of leadership (Choi, 2006). It comes down to envisioning, empowerment, and empathy. Google focuses on all three and they put that responsibility in the hands of every employee. Their focus on the importance of teamwork and trust in each other models elements of servant leadership. All employees are servant leaders by serving first. (Greenleaf, 1991). They are serving each other and ultimately all serving Google's mission first above all else.

So with this model of leadership, what do they provide for development? Well interestingly enough, nothing is mandatory. They do not make anyone go to any of the programs they offer. They want their employees to be motivated to attend on their own so they really believe in the value of the program. McGregor would agree with their opinion to not pick out a select few of employees (McGregor, 1966). So what do they teach? Wittenberg claims they create "lab environments" where employees can come and build on their own personal leadership capabilities by teaching each other and sharing cases and problems from their day-to-day work. At the end of the day, Wittenberg says that the self-awareness piece is one of the most critical to personal leadership growth. It is even the foundational core to their view of leadership development. He says, "You cannot lead anyone until you know yourself..." What does everyone think about Google's decision to not make it mandatory?

I think what is important to notice is everything seems to be aligned at Google; the leadership, the culture, the vision, the values, and the work.

I will leave you with this quote from Wittenberg that says a lot of what they believe in regards to leadership. " Every Googler, every one of our 20,000 people, can act as a leader." In organizations, do you believe this is really true? Can everyone be a leader? Well, Google sure does seem to think so, and I do believe I agree.

Here is the link to the interview: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2009/08/18/VI2009081801485.html

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NYLC and the Move to Hands On Leadership Learning

There are several ways to approach “teaching” leadership. One is what we experience in this class: studying leadership theory and practice from a bird’s eye view. By gathering others’ opinions on it, we are able to form our own. Another approach is practiced in many career fields: leadership development through training.

An example, as I mentioned in class, is the National Young Leaders Conference held yearly in Washington, D.C. According to their website, NYLC is “designed to instruct and enrich promising students in a hands-on, experiential atmosphere while preparing them for a lifetime of leadership.” This program is made possible by a staff of people who believe that developing young leaders is key to the future success of our world. My own personal experience in the program placed me in uncomfortable situations in which I could either hone my leadership skills quickly, or I could stand by the wayside. Lucky for me, some sort of leadership seed was already in my soul, and I love my experience learning more about myself and my abilities.

Leadership development is not a new concept, but it seems that in recent years it has been refurbished in order to accommodate a new generation of workaholic overachievers. Developing leaders has become crucial for a business to not just move forward, but for it to beat out its competition in every circumstance. According to Robert Fulmer, leadership development programs have gone from purely listening activities to almost entirely hands on, applied learning (1997). This makes me wonder: if someone is providing future leaders with activities and hypothetical situations in which to practice their skills, mustn’t they have those experiences themselves?

Part of the challenge of this new form of development is finding well qualified leaders who not only have the ability to share their knowledge, but to give up other commitments in order to educate. Fulmer also mentions the problem of having to pull people away from their jobs to participate in training. If the program is costing the company time and money, it must be proven successful, which brings us to the question: how do we know if leadership development program is a success? For the NYLC, for example, I can attest that I felt the program was a success. But besides that, what concrete metrics could be developed to measure the success of such a program? If we think of NYLC as a company, is it enough to say that they do not lose money and the have satisfied customers?

There are a few questions in this post, but to summarize, is it possible to ensure that experienced leaders are teaching successful development programs, and if so, how?

If you are interested in seeing how rigorous NYLC is, check out a sample schedule here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Leader as Conductor: What can conducting teach us about leadership?

Leading an Organization’s Score, Instrumentalists, & Performance to Success

The conductor of an orchestra is, by definition, a leader. With a quick move of their baton, conductors decide when and how the sound starts and stops. Yet, conducting is far more complex than merely starting and stopping sound. Perhaps best described by Dr. Fountain, my conducting professor at Blair, conducting is “an art of leadership.” As we learned in class, conducting involves all of the core components involved in successful business leadership: Vision, communication, trust, mobilization, etc. Similar to leading a business, the conductor must strategically use key musical components (i.e., rhythm, style, interpretation, etc.) to achieve short-term technical goals, a unified musical product, and long-term musical vision. Conductor and leadership consultant, Itay Talgam, recently spoke at TED about using this conductor/musician analogy to improve organizational leadership. Given that they face the ultimate leadership challenge - creating perfect harmony without saying a word- I agree with Talgam that conductors have something valuable to teach us about leadership.

Just as CEOs uphold company mission statements, conductors work to support the uniqueness and value of the musical score. Originally conceived by the composer, the score creates the musical foundation of the ensemble and the boundaries it must adhere to. Similar with company mission statements, the conductor treats the score as sacred, using it to guide his ensemble to successful performances. Although he may slightly adapt it to fit his interpretation/vision, the score essentially remains true to its original form and intent. The conductor’s then must balance the interplay between the collective orchestra and the individual instrumentalists to give way to a unified sound. Although the instruments vary in tone color & playing technique, the conductor blends their unique timbres together into a single musical sound while giving each instrument the opportunity to shine on its own. Similar to the leader mobilizing others through a shared mission, the successful conductor uses communication and vision to unite the instrumentalists through a collective purpose – to deliver exceptional musical performances.

In his presentation, Talgam explains that the great conductors were successful because they enabled players to tell their own musical “stories” simultaneously, as a community. As Talgam put it, the best conductors are “doing without doing it,” acting as Theory Y enablers rather than Theory X controllers. Trusting that their players know how to play their music correctly, the great conductor refrains from stomping out the beats, but rather assumes a coordinating, “co-adventurer” role (Kelley). This enabling process resonates with De Pree’s view of leadership as the process of “liberating and enabling” others’ talents, ideas, and skills. Conductor leadership is a relationship (Stogdill, 1948 & Rost, 1991); the conductor knows what he wants from each instrument, but doesn’t personally make the music – that is the responsibility of the individual players who are the masters of their instruments. Dr. Fountain taught us that the conductor must communicate ongoing interpretive vision and direction to his musicians. Words may be used to communicate this, but the real test is communicating vision through non-verbal conducting. He explained that the conductor must communicate vision and musical goals through his gait, facial expressions, posture, breathing, and gestures- everything must be aligned. This nonverbal communication illustrates Hackman & Johnson’s view of leadership as an interactive process through which leaders and follows develop a strategy to achieve shared goals. “Matching their behaviors with their goals,” successful conductors use goal-driven communication to benefit the collective orchestra and better reach their shared vision and goals (1991).

Leaders should gain inspiration from the conductor’s ability to lead nonverbally. Using this metaphor, leaders should remember not only to communicate vision but to embody their vision and goals. We are also reminded to lead without doing or micromanaging- as leaders, we provide vision and guidance while our followers make it happen. Like the successful conductor, the leader needs to engage followers in their overall vision and, at the same time, offer them the independence to use their creativity and expertise to achieve that vision.

How would leading an organization entirely comprised of "creative types," such as musicians, be different and/or more challenging than leading a broadly diverse group of people?

In what ways can we apply the conducting model to leadership?

What other theories and concepts does the conducting metaphor bring to mind?



Richard Branson and the Virgin Group

Richard Branson, CEO and founder of the mega-corporation, Virgin Group is very vocal about what he thinks works for his company. First, that good ideas come from everywhere, not just in the boardroom. Second, that his employees are central to his success, and finally that he has to use his authority as a leader.

It is in his seemingly carefree spirit that he has no formal business headquarters, does not hold regular board meetings and supposedly doesn’t know how to use a computer. This attitude does not mean that he isn’t incredibly involved or busy. It is somewhat of an allusion, but one that lends itself to a creative workplace that has allowed him to use his brand in a little bit of everything from music to air travel to environmental protection efforts and make it one of the most licensed in the world. The leadership attributes that Mumford points to as important characteristics are: “openness, tolerance of ambiguity, and curiosity” (22). By utilizing these in an open work environment Branson has been able to foster a creative work environment that really does accept ideas from all levels. In the article, “The Knowledge-Creating Company”, Nonaka points to the importance of freedom of knowledge for the very reason of fostering such an environment.

Like Choi’s idea of a Charismatic leader having empathetic qualities, Branson sees the importance of this in his leadership style. “Having a personality of caring about people is important,” says Branson. “You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.” Because of his openness and empathy it is apparent that he recognizes the importance of his employees. He goes on to say, “A company is people…employees want to know…am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.” He gives his employees a stake in the ventures that they were a part of creating. In the same vein as Florida and Goodnight’s idea of creative capital and viewing employees as assets, Branson has built his brand by employing people he can involve in the process.

He is adventurous and curious, but also realizes he cannot agree to everything. Branson has noted how difficult it is to say no to his employees because he does not want to discourage their creativity. He explains that he had to learn how to say ‘no’ and make the tough decisions like McGregor explains in “The Boss Must Boss”. McGregor says he, “finally began to realize that a leader cannot avoid the exercise of authority”. Branson had shaped his mission of fostering creativity.

The great success of Branson’s leadership can stand as an example for many leaders even outside of entrepreneurship. His attitude of inclusion and equity grounds him as a leader who is highly approachable. This benefits both the employees and the organization.

The Mentoring Project

In Portland, Oregon there is an author and teacher named Donald Miller who founded The Belmont Foundation, “a not-for-profit foundation working to recruit ten-thousand mentors through one-thousand churches as an answer to the crisis of fatherlessness in America.” The Mentoring Project (TMP), The Belmont Foundation’s main project, seeks to accomplish this endeavor “by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless boys” by providing mentor training and resources, and consultation to the volunteers as well as financial assistance to the mothers of the mentored children.
After reading his biography and part of his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, it’s clear that Don founded TMP, and serves on President Obama’s task force of Fatherhood and Healthy Families, so that young boys in America can live healthier, more-fulfilling lives than he lived while growing up without a father. His personal experience is a key motivating factor for his service to the fatherless youth in America.

Regarding TMP alone, and leaving out his writings, book tours, lectures, etc., I see Don as having some aspects of a few key leadership theories, but does not fit perfectly into any one of these alone: servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1991), visionary leadership (Sashkin, 1989), transformational leadership (Burns, 1978), and leadership as relationship (Burns, 1978, McGregor, 1966, Stogdill 1948).

Nowhere in Don’s biography or websites is he referred to as a leader, but instead, as one who serves a greater need in our nation. Is Don a servant leader because he is the founder of TMP or is he the founder of TMP because he is a servant leader? (Sendjaya and Sarros, 2002). Or do neither one of these premises hold true for Don? It is my opinion that Don is a servant leader, and then founder of TMP, because he is visionary and wants to make a positive change in the lives of fatherless boys and more broadly, in America. He became the founder after he first made the decision to serve in this ‘crisis’. With that, can Don change the world through his servant leadership? In the lives of the boys who are mentored, yes, the foundation changes their world. Mentors help the fatherless boys by fulfilling their lower level needs and moving them toward self-actualization, which Smith defines as the success of servant leadership (2004). In conjunction with this, mentors also serve as role models to the boys; supporting optimism and utilizing two-way personalized communication, which Smith defines as elements of transformational leadership (2004).

The mission and goals of TMP, to inspire and equip…to answer to the crises, etc., is also visionary in that the founder not only communicates the vision though numerous outlets, but acts on it himself, and makes the vision possible in several ways and places, such as through the giving of time by mentoring, financially supporting the program, or volunteering consultation skill and time to improving the mentorship process (Sashkin, 1989).
I’m not sure that Don would go as far as calling himself a leader because he founded TMP, and if he did call himself a leader, it would probably be in sarcasm because he is a bit of a comedian, which, on a side note, is one small element of why I also think of him as a charismatic leader. Despite his awareness of being a leader or not, Don aligns with Greenleaf’s philosophy of servant-leadership because The Belmont Foundation emerged through his searching, listening, and expecting that a better life for these fatherless boys was possible, and this expectation for a ‘better life’ is now in the making (1991). When he started this foundation, Don was not seeking to help himself, but instead, was devoted toward the needs of fatherless boys. At the same time, Don’s motivation and passion to serve others in this capacity emerged largely because of his personal experience of being a fatherless boy. Does this direct personal interest make his endeavor through TMP any less servant-minded? I don’t think so. The leader’s values help form the leader’s vision.

Don’s vision is bigger than just helping the fatherless through reliable quality time and mentorship. He is attempting to raise our value of mentorship through this project by explaining it as a step toward positively transforming the communities of our nation. Burns would likely refer to Don as a transformational leader because TMP has already mobilized hundreds of people toward the vision and changed the lives of several fatherless boys and single mothers, thus passing the test of leadership (1978).

Lastly, regarding leadership as relationship, Don seeks to develop the relationship between the TMP mentors, the children and mothers, the communities in which they live, and the churches of America that Don challenges to meet the needs of the foundation’s causes. Essentially, as Burns, McGregor, and Stogdill would agree, the leadership relationship is complex and is not about the individual, but about the situation at large.

In considering all the ways that Don fits partially into a few leadership frameworks, is it possible that he is not a leader, but simply a determined role model on a mission?

References and photo: