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.