Sunday, February 27, 2011

Management consists of doing things right and leadership consists of doing the right things… (paraphrased from Bennis & Goldsmith, 1997, p. 4). I infer from this statement that both management and leadership present as modes of directing behaviors of self and others. People appear to most appropriately use either of these constructs in contextual situations. Management also appears to best apply in non-emergent conditions, where clear standards and procedures exist. The goals for management likely include achieving efficiency and effectiveness, based primarily on those contextual standards and procedures. Conversely, leadership appears to best apply in emergent conditions, where clear standards or procedures do not exist. The goals for leadership likely include mitigating loss and maximizing gain.

In the literature, some have described leadership as having only to do with functional positions of authority. Others appear to have discounted that notion (e.g., “all leaders manage, but not all managers lead”). In Western cultures, typical organizations arguably hire managers to fill hierarchical positions. They further seem to expect only those managers to lead at the appropriate times. Even if the associated hierarchies would welcome leadership from "the masses," many have presented structures designed to withhold leadership authority from anyone other than managers. This seems to contribute to two major concerns: (a) if, in situations lacking standards or procedures, subordinates present greater functional expertise (operative, coordinative, or strategic) than those in hierarchical positions "above" them, the subordinates should arguably serve as leaders, at least until the entity establishes standards and procedures. My observations indicate that sometimes this doesn’t happen and for several reasons (lack of trust, face-saving, et. al.), and (b) those with hierarchical authority can arbitrarily act as a leader when management will suffice. This appears to sometimes result in reinventing the wheel, frustration on the part of subordinates, etc. In any case, by the Bennis and Goldsmith definition, it further appears that leadership serves as the appropriate mode of direction for any given project or program, only so long as that effort lacks standards and standardized operating procedures — at which time the processes of management ought to replace the processes of leadership. Furthermore, common sense (a priori) dictates that an entity concerned with mitigating loss and maximizing gain should not stand on tradition by necessarily expecting leadership only from those in hierarchical positions, but rather, with all other things equal, that entity should enable (read: expect and require) functional experts to lead, regardless of their hierarchical positions.

Bennis, W., & Goldsmith, J. (1997). Learning to lead: A workbook on becoming a leader. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Note: I first submitted a similar statement in response to a discussion thread on Linkedin.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

As opposed to management or leadership, non-contextual situations provide appropriate opportunities for people to employ ruling or lordship and dictatorship. Ruling or lordship presents as appropriate in non-emergent situations and dictatorship in emergent situations. As with managers, rulers employ standard operating procedures, looking to maximize efficiency and effectiveness in accomplishing tasks, objectives, and goals. As with leaders, those who dictate do so without using standard operating procedures, looking to mitigate loss or success. Unlike situations that call for the employment of management or leadership, the use of lordship or dictatorship primarily work to further the ruler or dictators' ideological agendas, rather than necessarily meeting content-based, contextual needs, as otherwise generally acknowledged by organizations or societies. Appropriate applications for the employment of lordship might emerge in situations that present with ambiguous contexts. Appropriate applications for the employment of dictatorship might emerge in situations that present various, variable, or otherwise changing contexts for which no unique set of standard operating procedures could exist.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Most organizations hire or otherwise appoint people to functional positions in order for them to fulfill the requirements of predetermined job descriptions. Organizations arguably create and maintain these job descriptions to ensure the accomplishment of particular tasks, or more likely in management levels, to ensure the accomplishment of objectives that support their goals and their overall missions. With these descriptions come implied or explicit amounts of authority and accountability and the usually unfounded assumption that selectees will appropriately assume requisite levels of responsibility. Unfounded because every situation presents unique, contextual challenges and opportunities, especially in regard to organizational culture. Consequently, questions of potential leadership effectiveness still remain, even for those selectees whose resumes align closely with posted requirements.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I hate to echo the chorus of those who advocate the current need for leadership, for fear of beating the proverbial dead horse. However, I think I'm approaching it from a somewhat different perspective. Several scholars have suggested that management, at least on the micro level, primarily answers opportunities and concerns for which standard operating procedures already exist. Whether these challenges present in marketing, production, human resources, or some other line or staff function, the job of the manager really consists of accurately defining the existing and the desired situations and contexts confronting an organization, and then picking the correct answers to close those gaps. Stated differently, the role of someone exercising management consists of choosing the correct processes and supervising their implementation.

Further research has suggested that although equally contextual with management, leadership primarily deals with emergent opportunities and concerns for which no one (at least within the given organization) has established a clear cut set of answers. Therefore, it further appears that those assuming leadership mantles use critical thinking skills (along with other types of analyses -- Bayesean, stochastic modeling, et al.) to both develop and implement processes. This development and implementation can take place by those in functional positions of authority or by any stakeholders in the organization who posses the expertise and the wherewithal to accomplish the required tasks, objectives, or goals.

Others scholars have argued that leadership does not go on in perpetuity. Once the emergent need subsides and a standard operating procedure applies, the leader re-assumes his or her role for standard, day to day operations. Many would also probably argue that times like these have never existed before and that these times bring with them new contexts. Therefore, it only seems reasonable that these times also bring more and greater opportunities for leadership than what has existed in the memorable past. The real questions seem to include whether any successful future organizations will let: (a) old ways of thinking, (b) old hierarchies established by political in-fighting, and (c) old "we've always/never done it that way" answers continue as the ongoing mode of operation... Or will successful future organizations rise to the occasion and look for new answers from members who might not have contributed much in the past, but who possess the expertise to significantly move these organizations forward, oth now and in the future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's interesting to me how many organizations state their corporate beliefs regarding the importance of hiring and maintaining a diverse workforce. I have found this especially true of some of the more renowned institutions of higher education. However, upon close examination of the overall makeup of their faculty members, it appears, a priori, that many of these institutions employ a definition of diversity biased toward political correctness. In fact, it further appears that they generally recruit faculty members who present little authentic, substantive diversity at all. Many of them offer a varied racial and ethnic mix, represented by both sexes. Yet, in the areas of background and values, similarities rather than differences seem more prevalent. Specifically: other than as starving grad students, few faculty recruits I have observed appear to have known actual poverty. Some have worked only in academe, if at all, where they found employment in roles as teaching, research, or other types of graduate assistants. Others have typically served in management positions in business and in government services, often remaining only for an internship or for the minimum required term. Additionally, many generally lean toward the left in their political ideologies. Therefore, it appears that if these organizations truly desired to hire faculty members, researchers, consultants, or trainers possessing a diverse background from the norm, it would include people more like me.

I grew up in a single parent home, often wondering where the next meal would come from. I hated high school because of the bullying and the drama and I quit after the tenth grade. The next autumn I enrolled directly into junior college and majored in music, thereby establishing a broad-based humanities background. By the time of graduation, the administration at the college I attended had selected me for who's who, thereby identifying me as a person with the potential for success. Not having enough money to continue at an upper level institution, I enlisted in the US Navy. For over 16 years, I served at the operative level, either as a worker or as a technical supervisor. Consequently, I developed real experience, unclouded by social desirability bias, as to which leader and manager characteristics actually motivated me and other non-managers around me and which characteristics provided nothing more than so much fluff. While serving in the Navy I also earned a non-traditional, but accredited BS with a concentration in Sociology and a traditional MS in Management -- something I posit that most managers expect of other managers, but few expect of technicians and other workers in non-management positions. Additionally, while in the Navy, I developed curriculum and taught organizational effectiveness topics (Ed Schein's organizational culture, Nadler and Tushman's diagnosing organizational behavior, Kast and Rosenzweig's systems theory, as well as a host of others), using stand-up, face-to-face instruction, 8 hours per day, 3 to 5 days per week, for 4 or 5 weeks at a time. I also developed curriculum and taught nuclear engineering topics that included thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluid flow, and nuclear physics, among others. Therefore, although I have not researched stochastic modeling or Bayesian forecasting, per se, if an institution needed for me to learn and teach these, I find it difficult to foresee any problems doing so. The remainder of my vita reveals a similarly varied background that has included providing stand-up instruction of: (a) project management topics to members of the US Internal Revenue Service and (b) team building concepts to members of the US Agency for International Development and for NGOs in Bulgaria, El Salvador, Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa, among others. In my teaching roles I have consistently received stellar reviews from both my students and my supervisors. I have additionally served as a successful project manager, account representative, sales manager, real estate broker, and VP of Operations. Politically, I am conservative and I find freedom more important than security. Of all of the other candidates seeking a position, who else brings this breadth of diversity?

Friday, February 11, 2011

In many modern definitions, other terms supplant the term leadership. Some writers have used the words leader and leadership interchangeably with words like manager and management, lord and lordship, and ruler and ruler-ship. Some others have gone on to attach leadership only to hierarchical positions and to imply that only those "above" possess the wherewithal to apply leadership in any given situation and that one can identify anyone in the hierarchy below that level as a follower, de facto. Conversely, Mescon (1958) suggested that leadership serves as a somewhat situational construct in which a group of people or an enterprise grants authority to an individual, proportional to the ability that he or she provides to satisfy the group or enterprise's needs. He further added that the individual the group or enterprise grants leadership to cannot authentically claim leadership as a permanent possession, but only until the point at which the group or enterprise withdraws and transfers the associated authority to other individuals, usually based on the first leader's inability or unwillingness to provide observable progress toward the attainment of the organization's desired outcomes. This corresponds closely with other researchers' noted observations that there exists no permanency in leadership. Rather, opportunities for leadership emerge when crises or other ethical dilemmas present opportunities for the creation of leadership roles based on group needs and other variables. When needs no longer present, there remains no requirement for continued leadership (Barker, 2001; Malina, 1996).

Barker, R. A. (2001). The nature of leadership. Human Relations, 54(4), 469-494.

Malina, B. J. (1996). The social world of Jesus and the Gospels. London: Routledge.

Mescon. M. H. (1958). The dynamics of industrial leadership. The Journal of the Academy of Management, 1(2), 13-20.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In discussing the benefits of understanding small groups as complex systems, I suggest that one must first identify what types of groups he or she wishes to discuss. Groups of what are we talking about – diodes, resistors, and transistors playing music in an iPod; computer mainframes joining in parallel to solve quantum equations; or maybe a Navy task force of unmanned ships, planes, and submarines accomplishing a mission of national security? Any complexity associated with technology derives not from the technology itself. Even the most complicated technology represents only simple components working together in pre-determined fashions. One can see this, a priori, in the fact that people with no more than high school educations (or less) operate, maintain, and repair the most technologically advanced equipment in the world. Therefore, even when reduced to a discussion of technology, at this point in the evolution of civilization, one must still evaluate the human factor when considering systemic complexity.

The complexity of human systems derives from the virtually limitless number of variables involved, sometimes working together and other times working at odds, all of which influence human decisions and outcomes. These variables include not only those that answer technical or “what” questions, like equipment systems do when on their own – that’s simple. No, human systems present as complex, because they pose additional questions resulting from ideological “how” and cultural “why” variables, as well (Schein, 1992; Tichy, 1992). By design, machines run in an “if, then” environment. If the temperature becomes too hot or cold, one needs merely to adjust the thermostat to the acceptable range and the equipment, if not damaged from the temperature spike, then returns the temperature to nominal levels. Conversely, by design, human beings only “run” in a similar situation at a micro level. If the temperature becomes too hot or cold, one may adjust the thermostat to the acceptable range, put on a sweater or take off a jacket, or say “to heck with it” and leave the building. The decisions he or she makes result from a complex system that includes interpreting physical and behavioral artifacts through perceptions, influenced by his or her values and assumptions. These, in turn, derive from experiences and genetic predispositions.

The primary challenge for research: Too many variables exist to allow for researchers to isolate generalize-able cause and effect, especially at the macro level, by using empirical, positivist and post-positivist analytic reductionism. One must arguably use a holistic approach to see the “big picture,” but even then, difficulties arise because of the adaption and dynamism associated with human systems (Arrow, McGrath & Berdahl, 2000).

The primary challenge for leadership: Who really possesses charge? Who really retains ultimate power, the exempts or the non-exempts, the guards or the prisoners, the dominants or the submissives? Through the answers to these questions, a huge challenge for leaders seems to emerges: Leaders must come to understand that the true mission and ultimate outcome of any endeavor that involves people, must necessarily regard personal relationships as an end, rather than as a means to an end.

Arrow, Holly, McGrath, Joseph, and Berdahl, Jennifer. Small Groups as Complex Systems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000.

Schein, Edgar. Organizational Culture and Leadership. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992.

Tichy, Noel. Managing Strategic Change: Technical, Political, and Cultural Dynamics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.

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