Friday, January 28, 2011



It's been almost a year since I began full-time PhD work at Regent University. Sometimes, I have felt like the professors were trying to hook a two-inch information fire hose to the back of my brain. At other times, it was only a one-inch hose. Therefore, as you might expect, I have developed some new thoughts, feelings, views, and opinions; some of these personal perspectives have changed; and others have remained relatively the same, but somewhat deeper. These new, changed, and deepened perspectives primarily concern leadership, but they also cover organizations, generally, and to a lesser extent research, and consulting. If you've followed this site, you've probably noted some of my new and changing leadership philosophy. This month, I'll try to encapsulate where I presently find myself.

Leadership

I've operationalized a theoretical definition of leadership. It's different than many of the other ones I've read about and heard and therefore, different than what I used to accept as leadership. Where many, if not most, of the competing definitions have something more to do with a leader's ability (to create vision, influence followers, etc.), the definition I arrived at represents more of a process of leadership. As such, the phrase "anyone can be a leader" becomes much more than a slogan or a cliché that coaches use to try to encourage members to give their all. This theory implicitly suggests that there exists a strong likelihood that everyone is regularly confronted with leadership opportunities to which their preparation will determine the level of success of the resulting outcomes. Here's what I've come up with:

“Leadership is a response to emergent, contextual opportunities where, in a given situation, an expert in subject matter or process exercises authority and assumes personal responsibility and accountability in directing activities of self and others, with the behavioral intention of minimizing or eliminating an ethical gap between what is and what should be, as defined by concerned stakeholders.”

Several authors' contributions guided my path to this theory. The most persuasive of them included Richard Barker[1], Bruce Malina[2], and Michael Mescon[3], with added persuasion from Charles Manz and Chris Neck[4], Robert Terry[5], and Ralph Stacey[6]. Here's some food for further thought. Leaders can develop responses both proactively and reactively. Emergent refers to anything non-routinized. Contextual refers to anything specific, as opposed to general. One can grasp or receive authority. No one can hold another person responsible for anything[7] (the root word is response -- one responds, he or she accepts responsibility or not). The level of accountability applied should equate to the level of authority given or grasped. Providing direction requires content or process expertise -- that's where I believe leadership style enters (great man, transactional, situational, transformative, servant, etc.). One can lead others, as well as individually follow his or her own lead. Behavioral intentions count at least as much toward building and maintaining relationships as the work does and after the work is over, relationships will still be around. Because it deals with ethics, all leadership concerns the spiritual aspects of one's self. As important as the desires of self and followers become, leaders must also consider the concerns of members of their global neighborhood when directing outcomes.

Organizations

A huge, HUGE amount of literature exists regarding organizations. Much of it describes, defines, and explains these groupings of human beings as systems. These systems present as open, closed, rational, natural, chaotic, orderly, bounded, and unbounded, among others. The more I've contemplated "systems theory," the more I've come to regard it as potentially cold and impersonal. Whether an organization consists of 2 or 2,000,000 people, the operative word is still people. In light of the works of Thomas Merton[8], Ralph Stacey, and my dialogue cohort, I can no longer look at organizations as systems and not see people. Additionally, because these organizational systems consist of people, they exist with much more complexity, adaptability, and dynamism than do typical mechanical or electrical systems[9]. Consequently, outcomes may relate more to the emerging network than they do to any plan of action. I believe Stacey would say that with a bit more resolve, however, I also believe the more closely the members' collective values align with each other's, as well as the organization's vision, mission, and plan of action, all other things being equal, the more likely they are to achieve the planned outcomes, regardless of the level of complexity or the emergence of concerns calling for adaptive solutions[10].

Research

I used to believe that one's research stood on its own merit, somewhat separate from community service and from teaching. I now believe that they work together, along with the integration of information across disciplines. Standards, however, create issues. Disparity exists regarding scholars' roles; both between responsibilities (discovery, integration, application, and teaching)[11] and between institutions. While a concern for fairness should probably influence outcomes -- the goals, preparation, methods, results, presentation, and critique[12], where does the relationship element enter in? What role does psychological, emotional, familial, and spiritual formation of an individual member play? How do we and how should we measure success; by the output, growth, or relationship we develop with the member who conducts the research?

An additional overriding concern I have with quantitative, quasi-experimental research in social sciences applications is the number of researchers who are willing to tout great breakthroughs and generalize their findings, while forming limited theoretical foundations and reporting survey results that consist of R2 values of .30 or .40 at most. This goes hand-in-glove with what sociologist, Peter Berger[13] notes about research in his discipline and what I believe to be true in social sciences generally; that any trend toward narrow empiricism, leaves a discipline lacking in theoretical depth.

Finally, I believe that researchers in leadership studies are generally biased in their assumptions about who contributes the leadership processes in organizational settings. Much of the literature suggests that leaders emerge throughout any organization, but when researchers in some of that same literature interview or otherwise survey leaders, they only interface with CEOs, COOs, and others in the upper echelon or strategic management teams, as leaders. In doing so, they convey the implicit message that everyone else in the organization serves exclusively in follower roles. Word up -- you can't have it both ways. You either believe the differences between leadership and management are matters of semantics (e.g., doing the right things or doing things right, leadership as a subset of management, etc.) or you believe that leadership is a process that is separate from management or functional position and that any person in an organization, qualified by their content or process knowledge or experience, can lead and therefore, should lead. If you want to know where a researcher stands on this issue, just figure out to whom s/he assigned the questionnaire(s) labeled "leader" and the questionnaires labeled "follower."

Consulting

I still believe the simplest consulting solutions are the best solutions. They present the least opportunity for miscommunication throughout an organization. Additionally, consulting is based on trust. One might have the best solution available to share, but if s/he has not built an atmosphere of trust and collaboration with the client, that expertise can be rendered relatively moot in most cases.[14] The old adage that people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care, certainly applies to the role of a consultant. In fact, in many ways I see the consulting role as very similar to a leadership role. Some member of an organization brings in a consultant, either from inside or outside. He or she possesses process or content knowledge and attempts to solve some dilemma. The difference, however, is that as a consultant, he or she must not accept authority to conduct business that the principal should rightfully conduct. It's not fair to other stakeholders who count on the principal. It's not fair to the consultant, who is arguably at a cultural disadvantage as compared to a principal. It's not fair to the principal, who receives rewards (accolades or punishment) based only on the implementation of decisions of another person, the consultant.

[1] Barker, Richard A. "The Nature of Leadership." Human Relations 54.4 (2001): 469-493.
[2] Malina, Bruce J. The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels. London, UK: Routledge, 1996.
[3] Mescon, Michael H. “The Dynamics of Industrial Leadership.” The Journal of the Academy of Management 1.2 (1958): 13-20.
[4] Manz, Charles, and Chris Neck. "Inner Leadership: Creating Productive Thought Patterns." Academy of Management Executive 5.3 (1991): 87-95.
[5] Terry, Robert W. Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
[6] Stacey, Ralph D. The Challenge of Human Interdependence: Consequences for Thinking about the Day to Day Practice of Management in Organizations. European Business Review, 19.4 (2007): 292-302.
[7] See Avery, Christopher M., Meri Aaron Walker, and Erin O'Toole Murphy. Teamwork is an Individual Skill. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler, 2001.
[8] Merton, Thomas. No Man is an Island. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.
[9] See Arrow, Holly, Joseph E. McGrath, and Jennifer L. Berdahl. Small Groups as Complex Systems: Formation, Coordination, Development, and Adaptation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000.
[10] See Heifetz, Ronald A., and Donald L. Laurie. "The Work of Leadership." Harvard Business Review 75.1 (1997): 124-34.
[11] Boyer, E. L. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. New York: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
[12] Glassick, C. E., M. T. Huber, and G. I. Maeroff. Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate. New York: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
[13] Berger, Peter L. Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. New York: Anchor Books, 1963.
[14] Block, Peter. Flawless Consulting. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. 1981.

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