Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I just finished re-reading a blog post written in 2009 by a colleague of mine, Dr. Jeff Hale. In his blog, Dr. Hale posited a notion that true leadership means "going forth to die." He established his thesis by recounting the leadership example provided in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ. By historical and faith accounts, the Lord served as an original member of the "Godhead," humbled Himself by taking the form of man, then chose to offer Himself in payment for the sinful transgressions of human beings. Based on this example, Dr. Hale suggested that: (a) true leadership has more to do with commitment than results and (b) many in leadership look to gain abnormally high levels of successful results by only investing nominal levels of courage. In that regard, Ms. Elizabeth Gerhart (personal communication, March 23, 2011) observed that Dr. Hale and his colleague appear to have attached a name and formalized a definition for this type of sacrificial leadership. She offered: "One of the most complete definitions is presented by Hale and Fields (as cited in Schminke, 2010, p. 37), who defined servant leadership as 'an understanding and practice of leadership that places the good of those led over the self-interest of the leader, emphasizing leader behaviors that focus on follower development, and de-emphasizing glorification of the leader.'" From these, I find myself asking at least two questions: (a) taking the a priori position that Jesus consistently served in the role of leader (not necessarily a foregone conclusion), did His sacrifice originate out of leading or out of following? In other words, would His death have meant anything to people who failed to recognize Him as a leader, but only as a follower? and (b) does the leadership commitment discussed by Dr. Hale in his blog require the immediate results associated with sacrificial death or the ongoing results associated with living a life of service? Heroes die daily and often under tragic circumstances. However, I would argue that living a life of true service to others forms the great sacrifice in modern Western cultures. Additionally, I would also argue that by definition, we should consider those people servant leaders who offer that sacrifice, regardless of the roles in which they serve.

Hale, J. (2009, April). Leadership means go forth to die [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://goforthtodie.blogspot.com/2009/04/leadership-means-go-forth-to-die.html

Schminke, M. (2010). Managerial ethics: Managing the psychology of morality. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor & Francis.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It has appeared that some organizations have become increasingly dependent upon highly distributed teams or groups that operate in unbounded or open environments (Arrow, McGrath, & Berdahl, 2000). By my own observations, this has further appeared to have especially included virtual teams and cross-cultural components of multi-national organizations. As a result, the risks to those organizations associated with failure to adapt and adequately respond to emerging needs seems to have presented increasingly greater challenges for organizational success. Furthermore, an a priori baseline premise that underlies the survivability of any organization, group, or team has included the idea that none can avoid competition or the errors that necessarily emerge when answering challenges. In the realm of complex, adaptive, and dynamic systems, the natural escalation of opportunities and challenges versus hierarchical, mechanistic decision-making processes has also demonstrated that some traditional, structure-bound organizations have become vulnerable to competitors who have routinely decided and tried to control courses of action (read lead) at the operative level, rather than at the strategic or coordinative levels (Stacey, 1992). Based on the efforts and successful results of these agile competitors, it seems that a compelling need has emerged: to augment traditional decision-making approaches with methods and techniques that allow teams and other work groups to control more efforts at the local, operative level; in order to survive, mitigate loss, respond, and thrive in the presence of similarly structured competitors. This has seemed especially important regarding situations wherein team or group members have possessed the resources and structure to provide for complete answers to the challenges and challengers they have faced. At least one Biblical Scripture seems to have confirmed this concept, by predicting a likely result of adaptive responses: "...  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" 1 Cor. 9:20 (New International Version).

Arrow, H., McGrath, J. E., & Berdahl, J. L. (2000). Small groups as complex systems: Formation, coordination, development, and adaptation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Stacey, R. D. (1992). Managing the unknowable: Strategic boundaries between order and chaos in organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We have probably all known of at least one manager who employed McGregor's (1960) Theory X, as his or her nominal management style. Several of my past managers typically used Theory X in praxis. However, I could argue that in certain cases, a few of them seemed somewhat justified in doing so. Some specific examples included situations wherein team members refused to "carry their loads." The managers in question applied Theory X behaviors situationally. These situations did not present as Pygmalion effects or as self-fulfilling prophesies (Kierein & Gold, 2000), where managers' expectations shaped the subordinates' behaviors. In fact, the managers appeared to have initially employed Theory Y-type behaviors. They only employed Theory X behaviors after they had provided ample opportunities for the dysfunctional members to fully participate. In that regard, Sewell (2005) argued that in what I define as Theory Y-type organizations, few checks exist to protect the majority who faithfully carry out their responsibilities "… from a minority who indulge in opportunistic self-interested behavior" (p. 686). He further explained that managers require the ability to control, regardless of organizational structure, to maintain "the operation of disciplinary mechanisms…" (p. 685). Consequently, it appears that some situations might call for Theory X behavioral responses, even if a given organization or a sub-unit thereof might prosper more from the routine application of Theory Y.

Kierein, N. M., & Gold, M. A. (2000). Pygmalion in work organizations: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21(8), 913-928.

McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sewell, G. (2005). Nice work? Rethinking managerial control in an era of knowledge work. Organization, 12(5), 685-704.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I just finished reading over another journal article on "leadership." It doesn't really matter which one. The author and the editor of the top tier periodical had performed their tasks sufficiently well to attract and keep my attention through most of the article's 28 .pdf pages. I had not read the article before, but I could have. Similar to many other articles that have previously passed before my eyes, this one discussed how achieving business success in the 21st century will require leaders in those endeavors to develop and employ laundry lists of specifically required attitudes (read values) and behaviors. The author prescribed the adoption of particular, but not-so-new factors like authenticity, integrity, and creativity. He also discussed the importance for leaders and would-be leaders to integrate these learned concepts into every aspect of their lives. However, at the end, I found myself asking the same tired question that I have asked so many times before: "How does what he wrote uniquely apply to leadership?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm as big a fan as anybody of authenticity, integrity, and creativity. I like it when people I work for tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I also generally enjoy it when those I follow explore new and different ways to do things better. In fact, I'll concede that almost everyone, everywhere would likely consider these good values for leaders to possess and good types of behaviors for leaders to exhibit; and in all areas of their lives. However, therein lies the rub. I not only like it when my leaders tell the truth; I like it when my peers and my followers tell the truth too. I like it when everyone, regardless of position or level of authority, employs accountability and integrity as lifestyles. For some reason, many authors in both scholarly journals and in the popular press seem to have concluded that these noble constructs implicitly and uniquely describe, define, or otherwise explain leadership. Some of these constructs may indeed relate to our ideals of the nature of what good leaders do, but they totally fail to identify the actual nature of leadership -- especially regarding the natures of management and other possible forms of providing direction to accomplish desired outcomes.

Friday, March 4, 2011

In contextual situations, it appears that members of organizations work at the transparent, operative level to achieve common outcomes -- at least in Western cultures. In these cases, the establishment of desired common outcomes might typically result from negotiated compromises, mediated settlements, or other transactional considerations; and members of given organizations enter into these (or not) with relative freedom. The associated organizations then arguably reach specific, desired outcomes, as those outcomes come to fruition from the voluntary, proactive or reactive alignment of members' values, goals, and efforts. Even when differences in motivations between members result in hidden or secret agendas and those agendas yield political in-fighting, the accomplishment of the organizations' goals generally remain the focal concern of the members. In non-contextual situations, the political or cultural agendas of the one or of the few present as more important than the agendas and transparency concerns of the many. Although desired outcomes might still result from negotiated compromises, mediated settlements, or other transactional considerations; members' relative freedoms to do or to not do and the voluntary alignment of their values, goals, and efforts all present as issues of secondary, tertiary, or irrelevant importance. Generally, in these cases, the accomplishment of the leaders' wills remain the focal concern of the members.

As opposed to contextual situations for which organizational members employ management or leadership, non-contextual situations likely provide appropriate opportunities for those members to employ ruling or lordship and dictatorship. Ruling or lordship seems to present 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. Therefore, in non-contextual situations, organizations would necessarily place higher priorities on accomplishing the wills of the directors than they would on placing high priorities on content-based, contextual needs, as otherwise generally acknowledged by the organizations (or societies) relevant stakeholders. Appropriate applications for the employment of lordship might emerge in situations that present with ambiguous or limited information. Appropriate applications for the employment of dictatorship might emerge in situations that present varying, variable, or otherwise changing dynamics, for which no unique set of standard operating procedures could exist.

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