Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Adolf Hitler is one of the most infamous characters in world history, known for his leadership in the Nazi Party and his role as chancellor of Germany in the early 1930s. After the devastating results of World War II and the Holocaust, can Hitler be considered a leader despite the damages he influenced? What aspects of his behavior and his reign as Germany’s dictator allow him to be characterized as a leader, and what qualities force us to closely examine our definition of leadership?
As a leader, Hitler maintained legitimate power, however he could achieve it (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy). When Hitler joined the Nazi Party, he felt that the leadership was divided and ineffective, paving the perfect path for him to take over. While there were many in the party who disapproved of his personal ambition, most recognized his abilities to generate public attention for the party; therefore, when Hitler threatened to resign in 1921, the other members decided to grant him overall leadership because they knew they needed his expertise.
Throughout his rule, Hitler maintained a mission and outlook that Sashkin would say fulfills the requirements of visionary leadership. He constructed a vision that stated the “Aryan race” was superior to all and “defin[ed] an organizational philosophy” that supported this inequality. Hitler and the Nazi party practiced what they believed in, starting the “new order” and expelling Jews from Germany by any means possible, including extermination. Despite the lack of respectable values, Hitler is a leader according to Sashkin’s definition.
While there are several definitions where Hitler can be considered a leader, there are many others that would denounce his leadership because it is lacking in respected morals and a relationship with his followers. Hitler projected a personalized charismatic leadership, a style that is “exploitative, non-egalitarian, and self-aggrandizing” (Choi). He was extremely focused on his personal control, insisting that the “ultimate authority rested with him and extended downward” (BBC). He assumed other positions so that ultimately he would have even more legitimate power, whether or not it was the best move for his party. This style is extremely dangerous for those who followed Hitler, as they were not heard, often punished for wrongdoings, and became supporters of the morally repugnant “new order.” Hitler harmed his party through his unrelenting control and lack of concern for others. Rather than create a collaborative and inclusive environment, as Burns would encourage, Hitler believed in giving direct orders without many others’ input.
Hitler was known for heavily critiquing those who reported to him and became angry and frustrated with mistakes. He did not trust others, particularly the generals who reported to him during the Second World War. Without establishing a two-way relationship, Hitler could not, and would not, rely on the opinions of others, resorting to his instincts and opinions. As a leader, he did little to build a relationship with his followers, focusing on direct control rather than mutual communication. McGregor writes, “Leadership is not a property of the individual, but a complex relationship among these variables.” Hitler underplayed and often ignored the characteristics of his followers, the characteristics of the Nazi Party as a whole, and the political context surrounding his leadership.
When examining Hitler’s leadership, it is essential to identify your own leadership model. Do you believe that morality and communication are key factors when developing a strong and effective leader? In hindsight, it is easy to denounce Hitler as a leader because of the pain and harm he afflicted on others. Heifitz writes that “leadership engages our values,” but what if those values are immoral and destructive to many parties? Hitler was a leader, mainly due to his positional power and influence on others surrounding his vision. However, I believe there is a difference between moral and immoral leaders, and when the vision is detrimental to multiple parties, the leadership is not a success.
In 1888, George Eastman, just in his mid-twenties, established Eastman Kodak Company and introduced roll film, his own invention, which later paved the way for the development of the motion picture. Kodak later introduced the 35mm film, catapulting the company to the forefront in American industry, and made photography a newly accessible hobby for all American households.
Today, George Eastman is credited for being a game changer who overcame incredible financial adversity, had a gift for organization and management, and possessed an incredible talent for creativity and innovation. His creativity captures Teresa Amable’s perspective in How to Kill Creativity, when she states that “to be creative, an idea must be appropriate – useful and actionable. It must somehow influence the way business gets done by improving a product, for instance, or by opening up a new way to approach a process”. (HBS, 1998)
By the 1960s, Kodak was a household name and the gold standard for all things photography and film related.
In the 1970’s, however, something incredible happened: Kodak invented the digital camera. Let me say that again: Kodak, inventor of the 35mm film, invented the digital camera. And because this new innovation posed a potential threat to its film sales, Kodak responded in an interesting way: they suppressed their new technology. The company that once pioneered mass-market photography began to quickly amass more than 1,000 digital-imaging patents. They essentially prioritized preserving the status quo to maintain sales of one piece of intellectual property.
In The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations, Peter Senge (SMR, 1990) suggests that while we are all born learners, there are social and organizational structures in which we are brought up and socialized into the workplace that end up shifting our "natural" learning abilities into adaptive learning "skills." The problem with this, he says, is that by focusing on performing for others, corporations end up creating the very conditions that predestine them to mediocre performance.
Today, Kodak is in decline as a company and is no longer a technology innovator. Aside from the massive loss of money, Kodak was been forced to lay off thousands of workers to stay in business. So what happened?
I believe Kodak essentially lost focus and lost sight of their founder’s vision when a new innovation came about. In response to change, they focused on what they were selling at the expense of why people were buying it. Had Kodak embraced their innovation as “designers” as Senge (SMR, 1990) terms it, their own invention of the digital camera might have been seen in a more systematic approach. This would have highlighted creative tension as opportunities, identified forces of change as areas of potential leverage. Kodak might also have avoided framing a new development as a threat or potential cause of revenue loss. Along with the role of designer, Senge states that leaders are also teachers, and stewards. These three roles require new skills – namely, the ability to build shared vision, to bring to the surface and challenge prevailing mental models, and to foster more systemic patterns of thinking. In short, leaders in learning organizations are responsible for building organizations where people are continually expanding their capabilities to shape their future. Leaders are responsible for learning. (Senge, 1990)
Kodak had the competitive advantage from the very beginning, but they failed to leverage it. A systematic perspective would have pointed to strategic dilemmas as an opportunity for further competitive advantage- and long term gains.
1. According to Kodak’s website, Eastman’s vision was "to make the camera as convenient as the pencil." How might this vision have helped to guide more recent executives in addressing technological advances? What might Senge say to this? What about Selznick?
2. What might Kodak have learned from GE in terms of developing their own leadership capacity?
3 From an organizational perspective, how might Kodak have utilized Dupree’s leadership model regarding creativity to bolster their bottom line?
During the Halloween weekend, I went to see the last piece of the seven-part horror movie, Saw. The movie portrays a series of survival puzzles often ending in death based on the decisions made by those chosen to participate. Behind the creative master plan is a man named John also known as Jigsaw. He chooses individuals who have made poor moral decisions in life, places them in intricate traps and forces them to acknowledge their sins. As I watched the ending to the movie series, I asked myself, “was Jigsaw a leader?”. He ultimately had several successors continue his plans long after he had passed; however, he created traps that gruesomely killed countless individuals. When evaluated against a moral standard, one would say that Jigsaw was completely immoral. However, he was a visionary and imparted his vision on to his followers.
In reference to Marshall Sashkin, Jigsaw is a visionary leader. He meets all three of Sashkin’s major aspects of visionary leadership. He constructed a vision, defined a philosophy and developed a program that put the philosophy into practice, and then engaged one-on-one with each chosen participant in order to create and support his own vision.
According to Heiftz, leadership involves our self-images and moral codes. A quote from Jigsaw says, “Those who don’t appreciate life, don’t deserve life. The cure for death itself is immorality. By living a life worth remembering, you become immortal”. This statement is a reflection of his moral values. His self-image and moral codes reflect Jigsaw’s decision to create these games. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer and fell into a deep state of depression. As a result, he felt others should cherish life by living morally and being grateful for their lives. His self-image and his moral values are displayed in this vision.
Regardless of the values that Jigsaw represents or the product of his actions, he played a key part in the production of his followers and vision (Heiftz). His actions relate to the agent of state theory (Milgram). Although Jigsaw kidnapped individuals and placed them in these traps, the victims had the power to complete an act that would have saved their lives. Technically, removing Jigsaw from the responsibility of his actions.
Although, Jigsaw is a negative example of leadership, by some definitions he is considered a leader. Jigsaw had no legitimate power; however, he used coercive power in an attempt to make his vision a reality (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy). In spite of this, Hefitz argues that a character like Jigsaw, who can be compared to Hitler, wielded power but did not lead. He played to people’s basest needs and fears (Heiftz). Consequently, some felt that after surviving a Jigsaw trap, their life changed for the better. Others who survived or families who lost loved ones as a result of his traps, would feel differently.
How do we incorporate morality into leadership? Are good morals a leadership requirement? If so, who defines the standard of good morality? Although this is an extreme case, is Jigsaw considered a leader? Do your personal morals affect how you view ‘good’ morale? Does the use of coercive power affect the definition of leadership?