Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Abigail Adams, like nearly all other women at her time, had no formal/positional authority and no legitimate power beyond that required to run a household. She was, however, exceptionally bright, and fortunate enough to have married a man who not only noticed her intelligence but also respected it. It is well-documented through John and Abigail Adams' prolific correspondence that he often asked her advice on matters of state and governance; through the strength of this relationship, Abigail possessed at least some degree of referent power and potential influence (Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy).
Abigail also used the "rational persuasion" power tactic as she counseled her husband on, ironically enough, good leadership - "Whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to all men, emancipating all nations, you insist on retaining an absolute power over wives. But you must remember that arbitrary leadership is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken...we have it in our power...[to] throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet." Her argument is following naturally enough from current events - Americans were in the process of overthrowing a ruler who refused to act in their best interests, and Abigail is stating directly that exactly the same thing will happen with women if they are not given notice. Her statements themselves sound eerily like a precursor to Barnard - leadership is not effective when assumed merely by virtue of position, it is granted by those who are led, and they can take that authority away.
It is perhaps on a related principle of Barnard's that Abigail made her error in leadership - a leader should never ask a subordinate to do something that they cannot or will not do. John Adams was certainly physically capable of remembering the ladies, but even as a progressive man of his time he was unwilling to put his masculinity on the line and risk the "despotism of the petticoat." But did she create her own self-fulfilling prophecy? In an interesting parallel to McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y of humanity, Abigail would have planted herself firmly in the Theory X category when she called all men naturally tyrannical. If she had communicated to John that all men were, instead, naturally fair and just, would she have received a more fair and just response?
Abigail Adams is an example of a leader with no followers (at the time) and who "accomplished" essentially nothing. She did, however, have a vision - a leadership quality which Choi, Sashkin, and other theorists claim is fundamental - and this vision would inspire hundreds and thousands of women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to fulfill the prophecy of rebellion that Abigail Adams foretold. It took almost 150 years from the founding of our country for her vision to realize, but the government finally did - in 1920, with women's suffrage - remember the ladies.
(quotes taken from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/adams/filmmore/ps_ladies.html)
With midterm elections on the brain, this week’s assignments triggered thoughts on our national government and how it functions in light of the theories presented in the readings. I found Schein’s discussion on the role of the founders particularly intriguing, as there are several ways to apply his findings (1983). There is the historical context as well as more current applications of his theory on founding leadership.
For instance, Schein (1983) outlines four distinct steps that demonstrate how founding has a lasting impact on the culture of the firm. In the case of the United States, George Washington is the figurehead that most clearly represents the first step, an “idea for a new enterprise:” an independent country of distinct but united states. Then, according to Schein, “a founding group is created on the initial consensus that the idea is a good one,” a group of colonial leaders appropriately known as The Founding Fathers. Next, this group acts “in concert to create the organization,” which this set of founders did by crafting and signing the Declaration of Independence, and later drafting and adopting the Constitution. Schein’s final step, bringing others on board to begin functioning and “developing its own history,” is portrayed in our country’s 234 rich and colorful years of existence. The cultural theme of separate and unique, yet united, parts permeates this history: the structure of government, the diversity among the roles and occupations of the Founding Fathers, as well as our demographic diversity here in “the Melting Pot.” This notable founding and the resulting culture is a familiar example for many of us of Schein’s discussion of initial leaders and their impact.
Another way to consider founding leadership in the U.S. is in terms of each president and his administration. Every time a new commander-in-chief is elected, a new administration is appointed and a new Congress is elected, essentially re-creating and re-founding the country under new leadership. In our current situation, most would agree that Obama exemplifies qualities of a charismatic and visionary leader, as we have discussed extensively in class. During his initial campaign, he was massively successful in mobilizing people and garnering commitment, and has since set up a founding group of his own within his Cabinet, as well as the Congress he works alongside. In the current political climate, midterm elections, which could drastically impact is core group of “founders,” will be a critical moment in the Obama’s success as an organizational leader.
- Has Obama’s four years in office been consistent with the culture established by The Founding Fathers? Why or why not?
- Do you think Obama will ultimately be successful in establishing a resounding legacy? (Some particular “hot issues” to consider are health care reform and the economy.)
- What other points from Schein’s article could be applied United States’ government?
But the position and the actions of the women who are given the unofficial title of first lady presents a chicken and egg problem: are these women leaders simply because they have become first ladies, or were they leaders before reaching the White House and are now using their additional power to advance their established leadership agenda? Or to use the terminology of this class, are first ladies typically situational or servant leaders?
It could be argued that the leadership of most first ladies is purely situational, that the only reason they are afforded any sort of leadership or prestige is because of their husband's immensely powerful and public job. Though some of these women carry on their adopted causes after their time in the White House is over and remain public figures years after, many could still claim that their leadership after their time in the White House is merely lingering power from their years as first lady.
Is the power and leadership of these women in any way minimized because they gained the position of first lady through no (or at least little) personal achievement of their own? Many of these women were successful and powerful in their own right, but were more or less forced to give up their own careers when their husbands were elected president, and have displayed many of De Pree's leadership traits in previous professions.
Though the leadership that these women display is often ostensibly situational, this label doesn't fully acknowledge and appreciate the work they do. Though Michelle Obama was a lawyer with little public advocacy for military families before becoming first lady, is her work any less important that the work of Laura Bush, who has promoted literacy through her work as a librarian for years before her husband was elected president?
Smith's definition of servant leadership might be more apt to describe the work of first ladies. According to Smith, servant leaders have an underlying attitude of egalitarianism, step up when the situation calls for it, and have the primary goal of community-building around a specific issue. All three of these attributes describe the attitude and actions of most first ladies, who use their notoriety and public image to bring attention and help to specific issues.
While many of the actions of first ladies are in line with the typical definition of servant leadership, there is one major caveat: Greenleaf insists that servant leadership is the opposite of positional leadership. The two are, by his definition, mutually exclusive. So, which is it then? Are these women using their privileged position to enhance their established public service or are they serving the public merely because their position essentially demands it? Or is Greenleaf, at least in this case, not completely right in his definition? Also, while neither approach is particularly better, is it possible for first ladyship to be clearly defined as situational or an extension of lifelong service, or should it be examined on a case-by-case basis?