Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Common Leadership Development Challenges

I recently ran across a study conducted by McCall, Lombardo, & Morrison that overviewed 16 developmental experiences that are thought to have the greatest impact on a leader’s development. Given our recent small ‘l’ leadership papers on leader development, I thought this would be interesting. Here is a summary of the developmental challenges in the authors’ Lessons of Experience (1988).


1. Early work experiences: early non-managerial jobs

2. First supervision: first time managing people

3. Starting from scratch: building something from nothing

4. Fix it/turnaround: fixing/stabilizing a failing operation

5. Project/task force: discrete projects and temporary assignments done alone or as a part of a team

6. Scope: increase in numbers of people, dollars, and functions to manage

7. Line to staff switch: moving from line operations to corporate staff roles

Other People:

8. Role models: other people with exceptional (good or bad) qualities

9. Values played out: “snapshots” of chain-of-command behavior that demonstrate individual or corporate values


10. Business failure or mistakes: ideas that failed or deals that fell apart

11. Demotions/missed promotions/lousy jobs: not getting a coveted job or getting exiled

12. Employee performance problem: confronting an employee with a serious performance problem

13. Breaking a rut: taking on a new career in response to discontent with the current job

14. Personal traumas: crises and traumas such as divorce, illness, and death

Other events:

15. Coursework: formal courses

16. Purely personal: experiences outside of work (McCall, Lombardo, & Morrison, 1988)

Creative Giving- The Bill Gates of Switzerland

This story started from a person, Roberto Laureano da Rocha. He lives in impoverish neighborhood in Brazil. Most residents in his neighborhood make a living as waste pickers, and so does he. However, five years ago he has worked with the Avina foundation. Avina Foundation was launched fifteen years ago by Stephen Schmidheiny, a social philanthropist. Every year Schmidheiny puts 30 million dollars to help entrepreneurs in both Central and South Aerica in an effort to reduce the poor population. Also, what he cares about is corporate environmental responsibility. The approach The Avina Foundation utilizes is to encourage the poor to become entrepreneurs rather than to provide them welfare, including aiding latin America’s waste pickers in Brazil to raise their earning and training the poor to run business in rural areas.
Leaders influence people and decide when, where and how to exercise influence in an effort to bring about the attainment of social goals (House&Howell, 1992; Mumford, 1986; Winter, 1991). In this case, Schmidheiny is a leader in dealing with a social problem. He saw that people in Latin America suffered from poverty and environmental pollution was exacerbated. His visions are poverty alleviation and environmental conservation. He mobilized the poor to move toward their collective goal, namely decreasing the ratio of poor people (Burns, 1978) and further reached another vision-environmental protection.
In order to approach his desire, the way he used was to teach people and train how to enhance their income through being an entrepreneur, instead of handing the poor money directly. He realized that without teaching, giving away is too passive. People still do not know how to earn more money to improve their life, so what he emphasized is to the growth of his followers-the poor people. This is a typical example of servant leadership (Smith, Montagno, and Kuzmenko, 2004). Schmidheiny’s motivation came from development of the poor and his first priority is to serve society first and lead second.
In addition to helping people away from poverty, another important concept he brought to society is to raise the awareness of environment in Latin America. As a philanthropist, Schmidheiny definitely proposed the creative and effective policies to improve financial condition of the poor and dedicate to the reduction of pollution, so he is an exemplar of leaders in leading social changes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Freedom Writing

In 1999 a group of students at Wilson High School began writing journal entries at the insistence of their teacher, Erin Gruwell. These students later became known as The Freedom Writers and were immortalized in both the book and movie versions of The Freedom Writers Diary. Gruwell, a first year teacher from Newport Beach, California, had no previous experience dealing with the experiences many of her students in the Long Beach school would face on a daily basis. Many had to travel two to three hours on disorganized Los Angeles public transportation just to reach the school each day while Gruwell had led a life of privilege and ease.

When a cartoon was passed around the classroom mocking one of the students Gruwell exclaimed, “This is the kind of propaganda that the Nazis used during the Holocaust!” prompting one brave student to ask, “What is the holocaust?” Shocked, she questioned how many in the class knew what it was—no one raised their hand. She pressed further, “How many of you have been shot at?” Almost every hand in the room went up. She saw, then, that she must alter her strategy for working with these students, her methods were very obviously adapted to fit more clearly with the experiences and social backgrounds her students, her followers, were bringing to the classroom (Heifitz, Selznick).

They read several memoirs typical for high school students including Zlata’s Diary and the Diary of Anne Frank. They were fairly accessible for the students and Gruwell saw in them a way she could get through to her students. Writing regular diary entries about their lives and classroom forced the students to begin to know themselves and gave them a major role in deciding which direction their coursework went in. These are principle traits of servant leadership in which the leader, the teacher, worked toward raising their followers sense of self and devoting themselves to ensuring their emotional needs are met (Smith).

It is also an undeniable example of creative leadership. She was facing a challenge herself and turned it back onto her students, challenging them to take the skills and experiences they had and use them in an educational context (Amabile). She brought out all of the differences and similarities in her students by helping them get to know each other by sharing their entries, creating an environment where they were free to learn from one another and expand on each others previous experiences in a type of creative work-group (Amabile).

Gruwell had to determine some way to understand her students—she needed to empathize with them and using the diaries to learn about them was a great way to do so while still being entertaining. It also inspired and excited the students, as it was something they could truly understand and excel at (Choi). With the diaries the students grew to feel a sense of collective purpose and support for one another (Burns).

This type of creative leadership was undeniably effective and beneficial in Gruwell and numerous other teachers’ classrooms as it helped students to achieve things and take a pride in themselves they likely would have never experienced on their own. But, does such leadership cause us to ignore the smaller details? Sure, many of the students went on to do amazing things, including receive degrees from Columbia, Princeton and Harvard, but others did not do so well with this method of teaching. There were other valuable skills that were surely overlooked in the focus on writing.

The extent to which students exerted themselves in the English course undoubtedly led to less of a focus being paid on subjects such as the maths and sciences. This could be seen at an organizational level as well as a leader may go out of his way to assign creative and challenging tasks but forget to ensure that necessary paperwork gets filed or new supplies are ordered. Is there a time and place for creative leadership? Do those working in a creative environment just have to be more disciplined than the rest of us? Pouring their energies into revolutionary projects while still remembering to place an order for more post-it notes or work within a strict budget?

You Follow the Leader, Not the Power

While watching Gossip Girl on DVR last night, a particular scene reminded me of the concept of leadership and followers as well as the idea of leadership related to power and authority. Jenny Humphrey is a character that used to be an outcast in her school, but eventually turned things around through her perseverance and networking to end up as the “Queen Bee” of her preparatory school. Originally her character was sweet and innocent. She even came into the role of Queen Bee trying to change its position to be of the people and not over the people, but she quickly realized she either needed to lead and take power or someone else would.

In this episode in particular, Jenny was put in a position that was a power struggle. There is an area on a staircase that she and her “minions” claim as theirs and no one is supposed to sit above her on the steps. A former friend challenged her because he believed that she had changed into a person he could no longer follow. She originally asked him nicely to move down, but when he refused her minions poured the yogurt they purchased for Jenny on his head. When Jenny later apologized in a nonpublic setting and tried to explain how she had to appear powerful to continue respect she instead lost his respect.

This situation made me think of several theories including the idea of values and morals in leadership as well as followership and also theories in regards to authority and power. First, several theorists, believe that values are part of leadership. Heifitz (1994) mentions that “leadership has come to mean providing vision and influencing others to realize it through non-coercive means” (p. 15). Jenny and her followers did use coercive means to influence others behavior. While Jenny is at the “front of the flock of geese” as Heifitz describes as a way biology describes leadership, is she actually leading or influencing? Or is she actually the one being influenced by her “followers”?

According to Burns (1978), “the actual extent of the exercise of power is measured by the extent that intended results are realized” (p. 433). Jenny did eventually get the results of having the people move from the stairs, but was that her intention or her followers? While she has the title, which creates position power, the intentions and manner things are being handled show that she may not be the leader after all. She is not influencing others, but instead being influenced. She is not following her vision, but instead doing things to remain in power. She is following her followers, so her followers are actually more leaders than she is.

I believe this shows Jenny is not truly a leader in this situation. I found this episode to show that power and leadership do not necessarily go hand and hand, but influence and vision may be more indicators of strength in leadership.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Superhero Leadership! Part 2: The Stunning Conclusion!

Welcome back! Last time we explored the idea of whether or not Superman, a person of superhuman abilities who fights evil for the cause of “good” is a leader or not. But Superman is an alien, a being not of this Earth, and almost incomparable to us mere mortals. Batman, however is not. So let’s look at the Caped Crusader a little closer to see if he would constituent a leader, both as a stand-alone entity and when compared to Superman. We’ll then wrap this whole thing with my person opinions on the matter.

So, Batman is a dark brooding billionaire who has turned to doling out his own justice under the cover of night. Zaleznik would probably have a field day when looking at Batman. Zaleznik (1977) would say no one is more “twice-born” and had to struggle through life (at least emotionally), than Bruce Wayne who watched his parents be brutally murdered. This one action led Wayne to eventually take up his mission of exacting revenge on those who break the law. But even further, Zaleznick could check off many of his items from his definition of leadership: Thinks outside the box? Neurotic? (Pro)active? Well, I mean the guy IS dressed up like a bat who beats up bad guys, I think neurotic may even be light in this case. Rich emotional content? Wayne consistent grieves over his parents. Intense one-to-one relationships? Mm, that may be a stretch, but he certainly loves his butler, Alfred.

But what about empathy, one of Zaleznick’s, and many others’ requirement for leadership? I think Choi (2006) would say Superman is pretty empathetic, because Superman usually looks for people in danger, and protects them. But Batman is different here- Batman hunts bad guys. You’ll never see the Caped Crusader running into a burning building, or saving a cat from a tree (however humorous the latter would look), so it’s a different relationship to the world of good and evil. Superman protects, Batman punishes, and therefore I don’t think empathy is here.

Let’s expand on that punishment a little bit. As mentioned in the last article about power, Hughes’ coercive power (1993) is clearly here, given the fear Batman evokes, but Superman has both coercive AND reward power. Batman only uses one. Is that enough for a leader, especially if it’s coercive? This leads us a little bit into a values question. While certainly Batman believes he is a “do-gooder”, it would be easy for someone like Burns (1978) or Heifitz (1998) to perhaps have some pause at calling Batman a leader, due to a nebulous morality surrounding his methods. Batman typically beats his opponents to a pulp, without any regarding to due process. He is judge, jury and executioner all in one. Is this really a leader?

And why does Batman do these things? Is it really for the good of others, or is it for HIS need, a need to battle demons created when he was unable to prevent his parents’ death? Sendjaya (2002) would probably raise an eyebrow at this, claiming that if Batman is viewed as a leader at all, don’t confuse him as a servant-leader, since his actions are not clearly altruistic in nature. Superman, on the other hand, may fall into this category, given there is no real motivation for Superman’s actions other than a choice he is making to use his powers for good. Superman receives no benefit or reward for his deeds, and that sounds pretty altruistic to me.

Batman’s response to these criticisms may cause him to cite a little McGregor (1966), saying that his actions are the result of a situation. The situation in this case is that Batman lives in Gotham, a city filled to the brim with crime, and a corrupt police force unable to do anything about it. He’d claim this is also in-line with Selznick’s (1975) idea that leadership is done to “meet the needs of a social situation”. The people of Gotham have a need for someone to clean up the streets, and Batman is filling that need. Also, Batman also has said (whether he means or not is in question), that he would go away when he is “no longer needed”. Selnick would like this dispensable leadership idea, and he’d also enjoy the fact that Batman has no “given power”.

Finally, just as we asked the question with Superman, we must the same of Batman: who is following him? This comes from the questions of Geneen (1998) and Rost (1991). I’ll answer with my idea about Superman first- the people of Metropolis follow him. They do this by having a fairly universal positive public opinion of him. Superman is beloved and championed. This is similar to how people support those holding public office, or even on a sports team. People may not be able to DIRECTLY “follow”, in the clearest sense of the word but they do they best they can through the power of collective voice.

Batman however isn’t “followed” by the public. He’s not seen as a universal hero. To many, he’s a criminal, just as bad as the ones he punishes. He circumvents the judicial system, and by taking matters into his own hands, he’s a vigilante, not a savior. Cronin (1984) says that leadership is more about means than ends. Batman’s means, however well-intentioned, and despite whatever positive results MAY come from them, are flatly against the law.

So where does this leave us? I’ll keep it simple. I think that Superman is a leader, and Batman is not. Superman exhibits a clear, positive mission, is empathetic, and even has followers. He could even be called an inspirational leader, perhaps. Batman on the other hand, is a deviant. A person who takes matters into their own hands, illegally, however well-intentioned, is not (usually)* leadership. Batman has no followers, has no empathy, and is working to serve really only himself, even if his actions may benefit others. I still like him though ;).

I’ll be anxious to hear your thoughts!

* - I understand that certain times in history people perform actions that are “illegal” (i.e. Gandhi, the Revolutionary War) that DO constitute leadership. There’s just too much to go into with that for this post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Servant Leadership and the Real World

I believe in Servant Leadership's efficacy in the real world. After our discussion of servant leadership, I felt that the topic deserved some further investigation. There exists in Indiana the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, which was originally founded by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1964. I decided to blog about this Center because I think the Center's existence, and more importantly the significance of its supporters show that the philosophy of Servant Leadership has a real presence in many the world's top organizations.

To begin with, the Center's President, Kent M. Keith, lists the following as key practices of servant leaders. These points helped me to view servant leadership in a more practical light: Self-Awareness, Listening, Changing the Pyramid (that is, the traditional hierarchical "boss" structure), Developing Colleagues, Coaching - Not Controlling, Unleashing the Energy and Intelligence of Others, and Foresight.

The Center's Board of Directors includes business and education leaders from around the world. I was most struck by the first person mentioned: Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks North America and Starbucks International. Behar joined Starbucks in 1989 and became president of Starbucks International in 1995 before retiring as Starbucks North America in 2003. Behar champions Servant Leadership. In a forward to James Autry's The Servant Leader, Behar describes how the philosophy of Servant Leadership rejuvenated Starbucks, and in his own book, It's Not About the Coffee, Behar writes that "the person who is a servant of all is the most capable leader," before referring to Greenleaf's The Servant as Leader.

Behar brought the ideas of Servant Leadership to Starbucks because there was something missing in the corporate culture. Rather than working as a cohesive team, Starbucks was a collection of individuals. I think that the fact that Starbucks was led by such a significant proponent of Servant Leadership during the company's most successful period shows that there is something to be said for the practical aspect of Servant Leadership.

Leadership Through Advocacy: A Form of Servant Leadership?

Seeing as October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought it fitting to blog about Nancy G. Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Brinker started the organization in 1982 after her sister, Susan G. Komen, passed away from breast cancer. What began as Brinker’s vision and promise to her sister to help educate others about breast cancer has now evolved into the “world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all, and energize science to find the cures” ( (Sashkin, 1989)(Sendjaya, 2002).

As I was researching Brinker, I began to think about her in the context of a servant leader. I believe that Brinker’s emergence as a servant leader resonates with Selznick’s idea that servant leadership is a choice because her desire to serve the community through breast cancer awareness arose as a result of her sister’s death (Selznick, 1975). She was a servant first, founding the organization as a service to her sister, and a leader second as her cause began to grow in popularity (Greenleaf, 1991).
Through innovation and creativity (Race for the Cure, Pink Ribbon Store, Partnerships, etc.), Brinker advocates for the cause by envisioning a cure for breast cancer, empowering others to join the movement towards educating people about breast cancer and finding a cure, and empathizing with those who have encountered the illness in some way or another (Sendjaya, 2002)(Choi, 2006). She exemplifies courage by sharing her sister’s story in hopes to inspire others and authenticity of leadership by approaching her cause from the socialized perspective (Sashkin, 1989)(Burns, 1978).

Brinker is a transformational leader who works to develop her followers and help them grow more autonomous in order to increase the likelihood that they will ultimately become servant leaders themselves (Greenleaf, 1991). Brinker’s charismatic style of leadership also enables her to motivate others to support the cause through donations and/or volunteering their time (Choi, 2006). Brinker’s initial vision has ultimately become a successful, consistent reality, and she is a quintessential fulfillment of Greenleaf’s statement, “I am a leader. Therefore I serve” (Sashkin, 1989)(Greenleaf, 1991).

However, as I began to look more closely at Brinker as a servant leader and how much Susan G. Komen for the Cure has grown as an organization, I started to wonder what exactly measures a servant leader’s success? Sure the organization has been active in educating women about breast cancer awareness and raising money for breast cancer research for some 25+ years, but there is still no cure for breast cancer. Is success measured in terms of the amount of money generated for research or by the number of activists who have joined the cause? Can you actually set criteria to measure the success of servant leadership? Or, is that, in fact, the rub—that servant leadership does not necessarily lead to a particular means end as long as the leader is working to develop his or her followers to likely become servants themselves?

Just Doing It

An organizational culture can be formed and shaped through the founder’s vision and actions taken. Phil Knight, founder of Nike and marketing guru, has transformed the sports industry through his innovative sports merchandise. His strategy of recruiting top athletes such as Michael Jordan to wear his brand has put him on top of his competitors, Adidas and Reebok. Continuing innovation in sports apparel and equipment technology has kept Nike at the forefront within the industry. Through this vision, Knight has created a distinct organizational culture.

Yet trying to understand Phil Knight’s success as a leader is not easily done. A reclusive figure who guards his reputation and privacy, Knight started his business by selling shoes, that he bought in Japan, from the trunk of his car. With the help of his former track coach at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman,  Knight made adjustments to the shoes by adding “waffle soles.”  This and other innovations helped them launch an empire in sports commerce.

      In his role as the CEO, Knight has often let his employees take the lead on getting things done, choosing not to wield total control.  How has Nike been successful in achieving a company with revenue of $16.8 billion through Knight’s leadership? Knight strategically tries to employ the best talent possible by recruiting former professional and college athletes to work for his company. These former athletes, like Knight, know what it takes to play and work like a champion. Knight chose men and women that shared his same work enthusiasm which is a trait of leadership proposed by Harold Geneen (Geneen 9). He knows their passion and commitment to sports will continue to propel Nike forward.  Also, the management structure that he adopted constantly moves people around in leadership roles. Leaders become followers and vice versa. Knight seems to engage his employees in the paradigm set forth by Joseph Rost that both leaders and followers are engaged in the process of leadership (Rost 192). By allowing his followers to adopt different leader and follower roles, he is cultivating an engaged followership.

 In his research on organizational cultures, Robert Schein learned that founders often start with a theory of how to succeed and incorporate their own cultural paradigm within their businesses (Schein14). Phil Knight has achieved this with Nike. He incorporated his own assumptions on how Nike should be run through delegation of leadership positions and strategic talent management. Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world which has helped them remain the top sports retailer.

In 2004, Phil Knight resigned his position as CEO of Nike but chose to remain on the board of directors. An outsider to the organization, William Perez, was chosen to be the next CEO. Perez only lasted thirteen months before he left the organization after clashing with Knight over the direction of the company. Knight said that Perez “was unable to wrap his arms around the place” and truly realize the culture of the organization. “It is more about Phil Knight's ego than Perez's performance. It is a question about identity. Some people won’t relinquish until they die." said Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, an associate dean at the Yale School of Management ( This brings up the question of why an empire that strives on innovation is unwilling to adopt this same strategy with their leadership? While Knight has created a successful business, he has also fostered an insider culture that does not seem open to outside influence. This is similar to Schein’s research on company founders that seek to employ family and primarily promote them over outsiders. It seems Knight believes that those “on the inside” of Nike or the Nike family are best for the organization. Will Knight be able accept the new CEO, Mark Parker and his new principles or is Sonnenfeld right that some won’t give up until they die? Do cutting edge innovators over time become dinosaurs in their field?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who's the captain of this ship? Well...It depends...

Upon coming to Vanderbilt, I was introduced to the wonderful world of crew. For those unfamiliar, crew is the sport of one coxswain and eight synchronized rowers racing a boat as fast as possible in order to win a regatta. The most important tool needed to become a winning team is effective leadership. Why? Because there is more than one leader on a crew team. There are in fact three layers of leaders. The first is the coach who leads the team by setting goals, providing strategy, and by offering constructive feedback so to improve overall performance. Next is the team captain who keeps morale high by exemplifying good sportsmanship and a team player attitude. Last, there is the coxswain—the position of importance for this blog.

The coxswain is the leader of each individual boat. On land, the coxswain must be as Robert E. Kelley (1988) would say, an ‘effective follower’. He or she must listen carefully to the advice of the coach, observe the behaviors set forth by the captain, and then internalize these messages so to be “enthusiastic, intelligent, and self-reliant” (Kelley 1988 p. 195). However, once the boat is in the water everything changes. The coach watches from the shore, the captain (as a rower) transitions into just another follower, and the coxswain becomes the one and only leader. He or she does the work required--screaming loud and coherent directions to the rowers--to meet the needs of the social situation (Selznick 1975).

Stogdill (1948) says that “leadership is a relation that exists between person in a social situation” (p. 65). Considering crew provides multiple leader/follower relationships, Rost (1991) must add, “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” (p.191). The sport of crew helps us understand what Selznick, Stogdill and Ross mean when they say that the role of a leader is situational. For the coxswain’s role of leader or follower is wholly defined and determined by the situation.

The implications of this example of leadership is two-fold. First, the coxswain had to first be an effective follower of higher leveled leaders (coach and captain) before becoming an effective leader. Second, the coxswain’s leadership role was defined within the certain context of the water. This layered and situational example of leadership reminds me of how, in managerial hierarchies, the role of a manager is either leader or follower depending on the context. To upper management, a middle manager is just a follower. However, his subordinates see him as a leader. So, herein lies the crux: in the much more complicated world of management, must one be an effective follower before becoming an effective leader? Can you be an ineffective follower but an effective leader? Or, and here's my favorite, does it just depend on the situation?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Power and Its Limits: A Look at Rappers and World Politics

The World of Rap and International Relations
The National Public Radio broadcasted a show highlighting the parallels between rappers’ feuds and world politics. Lynch, professor and director of the Institute of Middle East Studies, presented an interesting comparison of the feud between rappers (The Game and Jay-Z) and the challenges the U.S. is currently facing.

About the Rappers
Here is a little background information for those of you who are not familiar with the world of rap. Jay-Z has attained a sort of mythical status. He was a successful CEO of Def Jams Recordings for several years, produced some of the best-selling hip-hop albums, and is with Beyonce. In the rap world, his combination of soft and hard power makes him a hegemon. The Game, on the other hand, is like a rising power. He’s talented but also erratic. He forms and breaks alliances and often cannot commit to values or ideals.

The Feud and Parallels to International Relations
Since Jay-Z is sort of this hegemon, he started criticizing up-and-coming rappers for using auto-tunes ("you rappers singing too much, get back to rap you t-paining too much".). Per Professor Lynch, Jay-Z was saying “these are the rules of the international system. If you want to be a civilized member of our international society, you have to not pursue nuclear weapons.” Lynch also compares The Game to Iraq or North Korea – a little unpredictable and not big enough to take down the big guy by himself, but he still can do some serious damage by exhausting Jay-Z’s energy and resources.

What theoretical point(s) or frame(s) does this example bring to mind?
This blog brings us back to the subject of power and more specifically, power and its limits. The more power one has, the more limits one has on how to use that power (Lynch). If you are the hegemon or the world leader, how should you use your power? Should Jay-Z use his power to its fullest extent and block The Game from booking tours, releasing his album, or attending the Grammy? Or should Jay-Z refrain from using his power and ignore The Game? 50 Cent points out the dilemma Jay-Z faces by stating “if I shoot you I’m famous, if you shoot me you’re brainless.”

Why is this important?
This is relevant beyond the scope of world politics and applies to any powerful person or entity. The question of how they should use their power also brings in McGregor’s debate for value based leadership. The limits on power implies that there is a collective memory, and the collective remembers the abuses of power. Whether the collective can successfully take away the power is another debate.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Antioch College's Lack of Leadership

We see failures big and small when we analyze leadership, but not many times do we see an organization failing to the point of closure. Last school year Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio closed its doors after 156 years. The college maintained a reputation of progressive liberal teaching and culture especially made famous during the 1960s. Since there have been many presidents and members of the Board of Trustees during the declining times of Antioch, this post will focus on leadership failure as a whole.

Antioch College began suffering in the early 1970s from lack of a cohesive vision, a lack of community and a true lack of leadership. After experiencing a period of growth, the college began to expand outside of its original focus of undergraduate education. The unofficial campus motto had been to “take education to the people”, but what no one was prepared for was the massive expansion resulting in four graduate campuses being opened in less than eight years. The name was legally changed to Antioch University, although the undergraduate campus was allowed to maintain college. The faculty and students on the undergraduate campus began to feel alienated from the mission of a strong liberal arts undergraduate-focused education. Enrollment steadily dropped and eventually fell under 200.

The theory that this most closely follows is Selznick’s outlined in “Leadership in Administration”. Antioch’s administration from the president to the Board of Trustee’s failed to set long term goals for the institution that were cohesive with the college’s image. I agree with Selznick when he said that when there is a failure at the institutional level it is “more often by default than by positive error or sin” (25). No one at Antioch wanted the institution to fail, but goals were not communicated. They hoped to expand the institution beyond the undergraduate sector and capitalize on the financial stability. Antioch fell victim to the pressure of opportunistic forces of grow, grow, grow. Selznick specifically uses university administration as an example of leadership misinterpreting success while “steadily growing larger” (27).

Selznick goes on to talk more about the values and goals of an organization as something that must “infuse the organization on many levels” (26). While the faculty was seeking structure and stability in the undergraduate education structure, the administration was expanding to graduate education that did not follow the mission of the school.

The closing of Antioch College is perhaps an extreme example because we often don’t see institutions closing. I would argue though that there are many other examples of organizations that are experiencing a lack of leadership. Do you think the positioning of a strong leader would have been able to change the course of Antioch College? On a side note, an independent organization has been moving to reopen the school with an entirely new administration. Do you think that the school will be able to reopen and find success?

Cleaning Up (Your Own) Leadership Mess

In another class we have discussed several times the decline of Starbucks and what they are doing now to try to turn it around. It has lead my mind to the question of the company’s leadership – because what I didn’t know before studying the company is that former CEO Howard Schultz, who saw the company through its massive and in the short term successful growth during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, returned to the helm in 2007 after a seven year absence during which he served as chairman and focused on global operations.

Upon Schultz’ return, he sent a memo to top management criticizing and taking personal blame for some of the profit-boosting decisions that lead to the dilution and commoditization of the branded “coffeehouse experience” that carried Starbucks to its heights. A few examples of these decisions include stream-lining store designs, sales of non-coffee products, hasty openings of neighboring stores, installing automated brewing machines to shave seconds from drink-making time, and other cost-cutting measures. Schultz has pledged to get back to the “experience” in order to turn the company around.

In order to do that, hundreds of stores are being closed and thousands of jobs being cut. Without getting into whether his methods will be able to make the company profitable again, what characteristics of leadership will Schultz most need to demonstrate in order to be an effective leader, to improve the reputation of the brand, and to gain/keep effective followership while closing stores and cutting jobs – a solution to a problem that developed on his watch?

Immediately Geneen comes to mind. He states that “One of the essential attributes of a good leader is enough self-confidence to be able to admit his own mistakes and know that they won’t ruin him.” (Geneen 1998) It appears that Schultz has this one covered by taking blame for much of the demise of the company. Geneen also says that firing is one of the true tests of leadership abilities: “the alert leader will recognize the clues and will move forcefully as soon as he learns the facts. And when he does, he will earn the respect of all the others who are hardworking imaginative and productive.” (Geneen 1998) How does a leader recover when he was, himself, the individual an effective leader should have fired?

Another thing to note: The memo to top management was leaked to the public. Was the “leak” a strategic move by Schultz to ingratiate him to the public? If it was purposeful, was it a good idea?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Superhero Leadership! Part 1!

Okay, so of course we don’t (sadly) live in a world full of caped heroes, but for the fun of it, let’s suppose we did. Would we consider them “leaders” by any sort of standard definition or theory? Now of course, superheroes come in all shapes and sizes so I’m going to take two take two iconic superheroes and evaluate them: Superman and Batman. This blog will focus solely on Superman, and in two weeks, in true comic form, you’ll get the stunning conclusion when we look at Batman and compare the two.

Let’s start with the Man of Steel. Well, even his motto: “Standing for truth, justice and the American way!” sounds an awful lot like the transformation leadership that Burns champions when he says it is “more concerned with end values, such as liberty, justice and equality” (1978). Burns also talks deeply about the moral standards of the leader, and many a-times Lux Luthor has cited Superman as his “incorruptible foe”.

Sticking with values, we could then move to Heifitz (1998), who makes a lot of his basis of whether or not a person is a leader based upon whether they are good or evil. Surely, saving people from burning buildings, foiling robberies and rescuing tree-stranded cats are the deeds of a moral person, yes? Well…then there’s a problem. Heifitz doesn’t really subscribe to trait theory, or great man theory. If there ever was a “great man” I’m pretty sure Superman would take the cake- and would Heifitz care that it’s Superman traits, his special abilities to fly and see through walls, which gives him the ability to perform those moral deeds? Does this disqualify him?

But what about those traits, those special gifts? Well, he’s certainly got all kinds power. Hughes (1993) would say he’s got both coercive power and referent power as a result. You could even argue that those powers automatically put Superman in a situation of leadership, due to his ability to act, and is therefore a leader because of it (Stogdill, 1948).

But if Superman is defined as a leader because of these powers, then who are his followers? Geneen (1998) would ask: Who is Superman managing? Rost (1991) would then pipe in: There’s no relationship between followers and Superman, therefore he’s not a leader! It begs the question of can there be true leadership if there aren’t defined followers (especially it’s a bit of a impossibility given the unnatural gap in ability), or even a true goal? To that end Selznick (1975) might claim Superman’s leadership is automatically default because there’s not a clear mission for Superman- he just continually keeps helping people when needed. Are those specific enough “goals”?

There are a lot of questions I’ve asked, and I’m curious for the answers you might have. Like I said, this is Part 1. Part 2 will focus on Batman since he’s a mortal character, and is less “revered” by the public, being often called a vigilante. Til next time!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What to do with an ineffective leader?

Disclaimer: Technical difficulties still need to be resolved. This post is by Allison Wilder

As an undergrad, I was a leader for the Vanderbilt Danceline and had to follow the main band director. We have discussed if someone can be both leader and follower, and in this experience I was exactly that. Kelley (1988) poses that “effective followers and effective leaders are often the same people playing different parts” (201).

This band director was an extremely ineffective leader. Geneen (1998) states “leadership is the ability to inspire other people to work together as a team following your lead…others must want to follow the leader” (4). Our team worked together, but not as a result of inspiration from the band director and not because we wanted to follow him. Pagonis (1992) explains leaders must possess two vital qualities: expertise and empathy. This leader had neither of these in regards to our team. The two forms of power he consistently used were legitimate and coercive. As explained by Hughes, Ginnet, and Curphy (1993), as a leader this band director should have “taken advantage of all power sources, had strong influence on followers and been open to being influenced by them, and shared power with followers” (347). He never did even one of the three. His ineffectiveness made my job as a Danceline leader much more difficult, and during many of our conversations in class I have asked myself, “What do you do if you don’t believe in your leader and truly see them as ineffective?” Can you still be an effective follower? What if the leader is holding you back? This scenario could generate some interesting discussion and maybe other people in the class can relate to my experience.

As Kelley stated, “But the reality is that most of us are more often followers than leaders”. (194). This is to say that even when we have the opportunity to lead and make a difference, we are still playing multiple roles because we will probably have a boss. So again, what does that mean for an “effective follower” under an ineffective leader? Kelley explains that effective followers differ from ineffective followers by being “self managed, committed, competent, focused, and courageous.” (196-200). The qualities for an effective follower look very similar to an effective leader. So can you be an effective follower by being an effective leader even if your boss is ineffective?

At first, it didn’t make sense to me that you could effectively follow someone if they were not effective to begin with. However, through the above information, I am arguing that you can because to an extent, your job as an “effective follower” can be to work or lead others to some degree independently of the higher leader. From my experience, that is exactly what I had to do.

I now pose this question. How can an “effective follower” work independently from the leader if they are truly in a relationship, a perspective that both McGregor (1966) and Rost (1991) support? I also agree with this perspective, but in this situation when the leader is absolutely ineffective, is it best for the “effective follower” to try to function outside the bounds of a relationship in order to inspire who they are leading? And if so, what that does mean for the perspective of leadership as a relationship?

One final question: So is ineffective leadership “bad” leadership or is leadership not even present? And if not, what then is “bad” leadership?

Leadership, Morality, and The WorldCom Scandal

How the CEO’s Screwed WorldCom!
A Dr. Seuss Inspired Poem About the Collapse of WorldCom

The employees at WORLDCOM were an ethical lot,
But the CEO, a man named Bernard Embers, was NOT!

The CEO had a bit of a problem, one season,
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right,
It could be, perhaps that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all,
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes,
He was getting himself into some terrible news.

Ebbers, you see, had a firm business pitch,
He bought tons of WORLDCOM stock, and it got him quite rich.

But from 1998 to the spring of 00,
The telecom industry took a pretty hard blow.

Things weren’t looking good… and if you can’t take a hint,
WORLDCOM even had to abandon its proposed merger with Sprint.

The stock took a nosedive, boy, was it declining!
Top execs complaining, commiserating, and crying…

What to do? What to do? With our once top-notch firm?
Their answer would lead to the end of their term.

Ebbers, he had other businesses, you see,
Timber, yachting, construction… to name just three.

And when WORLDCOM’s future wasn’t looking so bright,
He pleaded the WORLDCOM Board of Directors with all his might.

He wanted more money… more MONEY! He said!
Not to help WORLDCOM, but these other businesses, instead!

But before this blew up in Ebbers’ face… KA-BOOM!
There were some other dodgy things going on in the accounting room.

The CFO, Sullivan, along with Myers and Yates,
Had less than their share of ethical traits.

By inflating revenues and underreporting costs,
These three men contributed to all WORLDCOM lost.

They made the company appear more profitable than it was,
Confusing stockholders, employees, and creating quite a buzz.

Surely someone would notice this… surely they would!
But a man named Jack Grubman was up to no good.

As an analyst for WORLDCOM, and Ebbers’ good friend,
Grubman approved too much money to lend.

Though he lent too much out, and took too little in,
Grubman still recommended WORLDCOM stock to buyers… what a sin!

But for Ebbers, Grubman, Sullivan, Myers, and Yates,
The punishment for their criminal actions awaits…

Just when these guys thought they were too hot to handle,
An internal auditor… Cynthia Cooper… brought forth the whole scandal.

Some key players were sent to jail, others quickly retired,
Some just got the Donald Trump tag line, “You’re fired!”

But no matter the punishment, we can only hope,
It will prevent further scandals of such a wide scope.

The moral of WORLDCOM’s demise is quite clear,
Honest business practices will bring the most cheer.

For business and ethics go together like a bucket and pail,
If you don’t get that, they’ll throw you in jail!

Leadership, Morality, and
The WorldCom Scandal

While studying abroad, my friend and I wrote the poem “How the CEO’s Screwed WorldCom!” as part of a presentation for one of our classes. I have included it in this post in case you are not familiar with the incident. The poem provides a brief, somewhat humorous depiction of the collapse of WorldCom and serves as the foundation upon which I built the following analysis regarding morality and leadership.

The fall of an empire like WorldCom has always been particularly interesting to me because of the number of players involved in the scandal. How were top executives able to continue such corrupt practices for such a long time without public exposure? Surely other employees besides Cynthia Cooper knew of WorldCom executives’ corrupt actions? Why didn’t anyone speak up?

In raising these questions, I started to consider the concept of morality and its role in both leadership and corporations. According to Barnard, executives are responsible for the creative function of leadership, meaning they should apply both personal and organization codes to their leadership style in order to be effective. In theory, if all of a leader’s personal codes reflect moral values, he or she would be able to lead in such a way that enables the transfer of such codes onto the entire organization, creating what Goodpaster and Mathews refer to as a corporation with a conscience. If only that were the case for WorldCom…

In my analysis of morality and the WorldCom incident, none of the executives involved in the scandal led with any sense of morality. Instead, they used legitimate and coercive power to essentially bully knowledgeable employees into “blind” obedience through threat and other fear inducing tactics. It is not until Cynthia Cooper, WorldCom auditor and infamous whistleblower, takes it upon herself to investigate the suspicious practices and expose the scandal that morality even appears.

If, as Barnard, Goodpaster, and Mathews suggest, morals are an integral component of effective leadership, Cynthia Cooper seems to be the only leader who emerged from the WorldCom incident. WorldCom’s’ top executives’ exhibited no morality because their actions were not conducted for the overall good of the organization, and no other WorldCom employees who knew of the underhanded practices did the “right thing” and spoke out against the corruption.

In thinking about morality in regards to the WorldCom scandal, I wonder just how important the possession of moral values is for a leader and/or follower to be effective? Can you be an effective leader and/or follower without morals? Are consequential inducements such as the Sarbanes-Oxley act crucial for the assurance of moral leadership in organizations? Would morality even exist in corporations if such inducements were not in place today?

These are just a few questions that came to mind as I was creating this post, but other interesting things to consider in application to the WorldCom incident include morality and Barnard’s “zone of indifference” and the role of morality in groupthink.

Emoticons & Virtual Board Meetings: The Question of Online Leadership

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Is Telecommuting Here To Stay?,” claims that virtual leadership and management is becoming a permanent fixture of the business world. In our previous readings, Hackman and Johnson claim that “we increase our leadership competence as we increase our communication skills” (429). Virtual business can be ideal for companies trying to reduce costs and employees in areas with limited work opportunities. However, it could also highly impair our leadership and teamwork skills. With this in mind, how do you lead people who are physically separated from you and with whom your interactions are reduced to written digital and virtual communication?

With roughly 5 million U.S. employees telecommuting on a regular basis, this question seems particularly relevant and important in our leadership studies as organizations and leaders increasingly depend on digital communication. Obvious examples include managers overseeing virtual projects or teams, and executives who regularly use e-mail to communicate with their staff. Indeed, several major companies, including Cisco, Apple, & IBM, have recently shifted their training program from a face-to-face format to a “virtual training program.” Moreover, many entrepreneurs and startups are trading the brick-and-mortar office for a virtual one. In tight economic times, new technologies are making digital and virtual communication a less expensive alternative to physical meetings.

Such new technologies include “virtual meeting” software programs that allow virtual employees to “enter” a building that resembles a typical convention center or meeting place. With the simple click of a button, employees can attend digital meetings and conferences, network, learn about new products and market trends, or negotiate a new business deal. These digital meetings and business interactions are very convenient and undoubtedly save companies money. But how should leaders best navigate these digital interactions?

In face-to-face communications, harsh words can be softened by nonverbal communication. For example, an embracing gesture or smile can reduce the blow behind strong words like “disappointing,” “inadequate,” or “insufficient.” But this nonverbal element doesn’t exist in digital interactions. The structure of words in digital communication also can encourage or discourage the receiver. For instance, a message composed of phrases rather than full sentences might be received as abrupt and threatening. A leader who sends a message in all caps and short phrases may be interpreted very differently than if they had sent that same message in full sentences using both uppercase and lowercase letters. The effective virtual leader, then, must acknowledge that they have choices in the words, structure, tone and style of their digital communications and plan accordingly.

If leadership is important for inspiring and mobilizing employees, it’s important that we consider how leadership might function in this digital context and what skills are necessary for effective online leadership. Due to a dependence on digital communication channels, such as e-mail, virtual leaders must expend extra effort on building strong team relationships. Because email tends to be task-oriented (rather than relationship-oriented), the social elements needed for relationship building may get lost through e-mail. Leaders of traditional face-to-face teams generally do not face this challenge because team members usually have a shared social context and familiarity that fosters communication. The virtual leader, on the other hand, must create a shared team context that allows team members to establish common ground and similarities with one another.

Because “leaders and followers are engaged in a common enterprise” (Burns, 426), virtual leaders must also expend extra effort in creating a structure that facilitates teamwork. Unlike the virtual leader, the traditional leader has numerous opportunities for encouraging teamwork, including casual face-to-face encouragement, conversation, and guidance. Interestingly, psychological research conducted by Hoegl & Proserpio reveals that as proximity among team members decreases, the caliber of teamwork decreases as well. The researchers explain that physical distance may reduce pressure on team members to contribute. In order to counter this effect, virtual leaders must consistently encourage team members to contribute and work together. Ultimately, the virtual leader must proactively build a structure that encourages teamwork and helps the team monitor itself.

All in all, leading a virtual team involves unique challenges and may require more effort than leading a traditional face-to-face team. Ultimately, I think leaders must be highly proactive and visible in both their face-to-face & virtual activities. Leaders able to grasp the unique challenges involved in both face-to-face and virtual leadership will ultimately be the leaders of today and tomorrow.


What unique advantages and disadvantages do you think are involved in virtual leadership?