Thursday, September 16, 2010

Muhammad Yunus: A Visionary Leader

As the founder of Grameen Bank and the pioneer of microcredit, Muhammad Yunus has transformed the third world with his visionary leadership. Microcredit is the innovative banking program that provides poor individuals with small loans so that they in turn can become agents of change by launching their own businesses and beginning to address the issue of poverty within their communities. Through his action of making microcredit a reality, Yunus epitomizes Sashkin’s idea of visionary leadership.

According to Marshall Sashkin, there are three major aspects to visionary leadership. “The first consists of constructing a vision, creating an ideal image of the organization and its culture. The second involves defining an organizational philosophy that succinctly states the vision and developing programs and policies that pith the philosophy in practice within the organization’s unique context and culture. The third aspect centers on the leaders’ own practices, the specific actions in which leaders engage on a one-to-one basis in order to create and support their visions” (Sashkin 403).

Muhummad Yunus believes that poverty can totally be conquered in his lifetime is the right approach is adopted. This viewpoint is based on his belief that the inherent ability of the poor can be unleashed once they are given the opportunity to help themselves ( His dream of addressing poverty through an economic development lens became a reality with the establishment of Gramee Bank in Bangladesh, which recognized that credit without collateral is a fundamental right of the poor. Grameen Bank was a grand success and has been widely replicated all over the world. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his transformative work in micro-financing.

Finally, I wanted to highlight a fourth type of visionary leadership, which is displaying respect for self and others. This quality is what sets Yunus apart from most leaders. He is not only addressing the overwhelming global issue of poverty, but is empowering and enabling others to become leaders in their community.

Shashkin states that “one of the characteristics of visionary leaders is that we feel good around them because they boost our sense of self-worth by paying attention to us, by trusting us, by sharing ideas with us, by making it clear how important we are as persons” (407).

"Lost" in Leadership Theory

When reading Heifitz's "Values in Leadership" article, I found myself thinking about my favorite television show; Lost. The theory that Heifitz discusses that I feel applies specifically to Lost is the contingency theory. To review, contingency theory states that "different situations demand different personalities and call for different behaviors," and that "the appropriate style of leadership is contingent on the requirements of the particular situation," (Heifitz, 1994, p.17). Anyone who is a Lost fan knows that the leaders of the various groups change as situations on the island change. Ben, Jack, Sawyer, and Jacob can all be considered leaders at one point or another. Even Hugo calls the shots now and then.
In our discussion of contingency theory, I would like to look specifically at Ben. On the island, Ben is a devious and manipulative man who killed his own father in order to gain power. For the majority of the show he is the leader of "the others." Although his tactics are seen by many as evil, he claims he is only doing what is necessary to protect the island and those on the island. However, in a flash sideways (a flash sideways shows the lives the characters would have lead if they were not on the island) Ben is depicted as a mild mannered history teacher with very little power. So, we see that given a different situation Ben is not a leader. Could it be that because there were such dangerous circumstances on the island, a ruthless and manipulative leader was necessary, which drew out Ben's leadership skills?
I believe that most everyone would agree Ben is a negative example of contingency theory. He was willing to kill anyone who got in his way, including his father. His daughter was even killed as a result of his tactics. It could be argued that Jack is a more positive example of contingency theory. There were times when he stepped down as a leader because the situation called for someone different, but his methods were never hostile.
This example is important because it demonstrates how a seemingly harmless person can turn into a destructive leader when the situation calls for it. It is important to understand that it may be necessary to alter a situation in order to get a positive leader.