MEETING # 1618
APRIL 15, 1999
AN ELUSIVE CONCEPT AT BEST
by James R. Appleton Ph.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
Successful leadership is an elusive concept at best. Was Hitler a successful leader? How about Clinton or Dole? What about Kadafi or Billl Gates? When seeking examples of successful leaders, it is usually such bigger-than-life images that are considered. Maybe your list would include Churchill, or Roosevelt, or Washington or Lincoln, or your favorite politican, CEO, a local mayor, or even a university president. Yet, to use such public figures in order to define successful leadership is short sighted because this reinforces a notion that leadership is in the hands of a highly visible few. Rather, I wish to develop a broader understanding of successful leadership.
This presentation on leadership follows the fall semester experience of teaching a new student seminar at the University of Redlands titled Leaders: Are They Born or Made? I spent four months exploring this topic with sixteen students, hopefully assisting them to understand something about successful leadership and how they might improve their ability to make an impact on the society they are about to inherit. Understanding the makeup of successful leadership is essential, especially for an educator as well as these students as well as these students, if we are going to encourage our students to try to lead, to learn from both triumphs and failures, and to develop the skills and resolve to impact their world for good.
Leadership is often bandied about in the popular press and is the subject of serious research. Early studies tended to concentrate on a few supposed great men (and it was men that were studied), those for whom monuments are built and who it was thought were key to major social movements or lives of nations. But these persons, as influential as they were or are, are but the 'up-front' leaders and the most visible expressions of the tides of history. They are a kind of leader. The ideas about leadership, which derived from this approach, define leadership too narrowly.
Some of the early research also focused on certain physical characteristics, or traits, or abilities of "natural leaders." Aha, leaders born! This assumes that leaders are quite different than average persons and is also quite misleading. The models tend to be taller, usually white, with certain attributes like highly developed verbal skills. There may be certain leadership positions where certain characteristics are helpful, but this does not mean that the persons who do not possess just the right formula of characteristics cannot be successful leaders.
Other students of leadership turned their attention to certain behaviors that they thought contributed to successful leadership. It is useful to identify behaviors for leaders to consider developing or using, and the literature is full of recommendations in this regard, but there is no single short list that works for all successful leaders in all situations at all times.
One group of scholars has emphasized situational leadership. Now we're getting warmer. They acknowledge there is a long list of actions available to the leader. They emphasize, however, that one must learn that what one employs from this list, and therefore how the leader functions, depends upon the situation at a given time, and on a number of variables that have to do with the leader as well as the situation. So, one of the keys for the successful leader is being able to know how to make choices in order to influence the group.
As described by Joseph Rost, "traditional definitions of leadership would sound something like this: leadership is [defined by] great men with certain preferred traits influencing followers to do what the leaders wish in order to achieve group/organizational goals
" This takes a very hierarchical view of organizations, focuses on the most visible leader, is rational, reflects a male model of life, is quite materialistic or utilitarian, its dominant objective is goal achievement. These ideas emphasize the idea that leadership is a series of transactions to get people to do things. It is not that such definitions are necessarily wrong, but that they do not go far enough.
A WORKING DEFINITION
The model of leadership that makes most sense to me focuses on leadership as empowering everyone in a group to be engaged in the work or activity of the group. It emphasizes reordering values through collective action. It suggests that each person in any given group or organization can be a successful leader. It is strongly developmental towards others in the group. It also is intellectually stimulating in that everyone (ideally) understands problems and potential solutions, and each person is empowered to influence the completion of agreed-upon objectives.
This leads to a definition of leadership that acknowledges certain aspects of our society today such as the values of collaboration, freedom of expression, critical dialogue, qualitative methodologies and language, global concern, diversity and pluralism in our structure and participation, consensus-oriented policy making.
If I were to offer a definition of leadership it is quite straightforward and is as follows: leadership is an influence among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes. The most successful leaders are those who exercise the most influence. They can be at all levels in an organization, with formal responsibilities intended to platform their skills, or informal brokers of influence. Theoretically, each person in a successful organization can be a successful leader. So, as you might expect, I vote 'yes' to the proposition that leaders can be made.
I have from time to time suggested to persons in groups for which I have some responsibility that we think about our group as if there were no followers; only leaders with differing responsibilities, all who can be successful in their own way in achieving the purposes of the group. It creates an interesting mindset about how we do our work and the number of persons who can fit the definition of successful leadership.
ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP
With these ideas about definition in mind, we can now turn our attention to what are some of the essential elements of successful leadership.
Successful Leaders Must Have the Ability to Develop a Vision of the Possible.2 My own study of leadership leads me to the same conclusion as stated by Warren Benis and Burt Nanis, distinguished members of the faculty at the University of Southern California, that successful leaders are a widely diverse group. They are right-brained and left-brained, tall and short, fat and thin, articulate and inarticulate, assertive and retiring, participative and autocratic. They are young, old, Black, men, women
their skills and characteristics vary significantly. What is similar among successful leaders? What is the marrow of leadership behavior? Those who are successful in leading others, marshal the skills of others by the sheer weight of their visions.
This may be the most important variable that can be used to distinguish successful leaders. Successful leaders have visions of the possible. They create focus, have an agenda, and have an unparalleled concern for the outcome
Leaders are the most results-oriented individuals
their visions are compelling and pull people toward them. Others are attracted to successful leaders because of their extraordinary focus of commitment, not because of certain looks, personality, or even skills or traits. To be effective, the successful leader is a shaper of our world by the weight of the agendas, the visions that are built and by the visions of cathedrals that are formed.
Successful Leaders Must Have a Clear Understanding of Themselves; the Expectations, Experiences, Needs, and Interaction Pattern of Others in the Group or Organization; and the Tasks to be Accomplished. To help us understand this, we might look at what leaders actually do. A list of action options available is noted in Appendix A. It is not exhaustive, only illustrative. Do all leaders do all of these things all of the time? The answer is obviously 'no'. Then how does one choose at any given time what is appropriate, necessary, or workable? How do successful leaders choose at any given time an action step that will enable the group or organization to move toward the stated objectives? Some things work for some leaders, some of these actions may be more important in specific situations than others. So what leadership to exert? I repeat: by developing the capacity to know oneself very well; understand the expectation, experiences, needs and interaction patterns of other in the group; and appreciate the specifics of the environment and the tasks to be accomplished in the group in which he or she is functioning.
First we must know ourselves very well. For the purposes of determining how to lead this means understanding the impact of past personal and work experiences, gender, ethnicity, biases, age, education, past successes and failures, geography, formative and constraining influences, beliefs and values, socio-economic situation on ones abilities, interests, ways of thinking, and relationships. These variables end up affecting not only what might work in leadership situations but how one might act or, in other words, the style of leadership that might be used in any given situation.
Then it is also important to recognize the impact of these same variables on the other persons in the group or organization. Understanding the skills possessed by others, the resources they have to contribute to the group, the expectations they bring and what they expect to achieve within the given group or organization, and the patterns of interaction that they reveal should influence the given leader's behavior on behalf of the group itself.
Then of course, as mentioned earlier, the details of the tasks to be accomplished and the mission of the group or organization will also influence the style or manner in which one leads.
The Successful Leader Pays As Much Attention to Competency Power as Compared to Other Aspects of Power.3 The acquisition and right use of power in groups or organizations is part of the dynamic process of affecting change or meeting personal ambitions and institutional objectives. Power for this purpose is defined as the basic capacity to initiate and sustain action or, put it another way, the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it. There are several kinds or bases of power that have been described in a number of ways by various authors.
One usually most easily understood - bureaucratic power. This might also be described as "legitimate power" or "authority given." It is the core of a traditional influence system, and is the ability to allocate resources and to reward, to employ, to promote and release employees. It also often involves access to authority and control of information flow. The degree to which a given person possesses bureaucratic power is a function of the size of budgets, the breadth of administrative portfolio, the number of persons supervised, the information accessed, and, often, the position enjoyed by the person within the administrative hierarchy.
A second kind of power might be called professional resource power or referent power and is described as the influence that accrues to relationships with important constituencies. Examples might include an attorney who benefits from the prestige of a bar association or a staff member who has a relationship to an influential supervisor.
A third kind of power is coercion that is based on a follower's perception that the influencer has the ability to punish. The use of force is a legitimate but somewhat questionable power available in every organization. Coercion is an important tool for labor unions, but might also be drawn from the threat of bad publicity or an appeal to public opinion by a leader.
A fourth kind of power - personal-influence power. There are a number of ways to extend one's influence that can be grouped under this heading. For example, building coalitions around a particular interest or issue, or developing informal relationships within an organization that can be called on when support is required. Interestingly enough, myths that develop about one's past or one's reputation will also increase the influence that comes through personal charisma and stature.
Then, the last power cited is actually a subset of personal-influence power that is easily overlooked - expert power. A most important base of power is the power that can be realized through the exercise of sheer competence and through the belief that the leader has special knowledge or expertise. This has to do in part with the leader's being able to achieve what has been promised and leads to influence won through respect not assertion.
A simple declarative statement summarizes this essential element of successful leadership: Successful leaders depend as much on personal influence and competency power as on the elements of bureaucratic power.
The Successful Leader Will Be A Transforming Leader Not Only A Transactional Leader. My idea of a successful leader is one that moves beyond the mere transactions that are required, and on to the tasks of renewal and transformation. As noted by John Gardner in his On Leadership "Continual renewal is necessary [within institutions]. The transactional leader accepts and works within the system and is focused on task. The transformational leader knows how the processes of renewal may be set in motion." Transformational leaders must renew and reinterpret values that have been encrusted with hypocrisy, corroded by cynicism or simply abandoned; and must generate new values when needed. They need to liberate energies that have been imprisoned by outmoded procedures and habits of thought. The must reenergize forgotten goals or generate new goals appropriate to new circumstances. Maybe most important, they must foster the release of human possibilities.4
The transformational leader attempts in every transaction to exercise the secondary value of helping others to be successful, to develop their own capacity to increase their ability to enable the organization to meet agreed-upon objectives. This kind of leader engages with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality. Ideally, both leaders and followers, as well as the organization, change as the activity of the group develops. In the process of task completion, a setting is developed in which others are empowered, indeed transformed by the process itself to themselves become more effective.
Successful Leaders Fuss with Value Questions and Ask the Question "Leadership For What Purpose and What Public Good." Included in my definition of successful leadership is the recognition that there is a moral dimension to leadership that must be taken into account. Yes, until one reflects on the question of the impact leadership will have and the purposes to be attained, one can dare to suggest that Hitler was a successful leader. But no one in this room would be willing to place such a label on such a despicable historical character. Bennis indicated in On Becoming A Leader that when people use ethical processes to do the wrong thing, they are not doing leadership. Now we are into the realm of what we would like to see in successful leaders.
This matter takes on two complementary dimensions. One has to do with the purposes that the leader has in mind when influencing the group or organization. The example of Hitler is a striking example. He was very successful in achieving what the Nazis intended, it was in the light of history just plain insane. The other dimension has to do with the morale behavior of the leader himself or herself. Both are important parts of my wish list for successful leaders. Unfortunately history provides numerous examples of persons judged to be successful by most who do not meet one or the other of these dimensions, have misguided objectives, or exhibit behavior that is not morally uplifting.
While I am tempted to explore how the successful leader might attempt to apply one or more system of ethical, thought this is a task that is too cumbersome and complex to treat lightly. For our purposes today, it is important to have at least recognized that successful leadership must include some integrated concept of the common good; that successful leaders, by my definition at least, must struggle not only with their individual interests, and narrowly defined group or organizational interests, but also with the public good.5
AN ILLUSTRATION OF 'OTHERS'
At this time I wish to deviate somewhat from a standard Fortnightly Club presentation and present an exercise that will bring to life one of the elements I cited in this presentation that a successful leader must understand - namely - understanding the expectations of the persons in a group or organization. To accomplish this I need fifteen volunteers.
[Note: from this point on only an abbreviated version of the exercise is cited.]
First we will list a number of expectations that these persons (the volunteers) might bring to a position in an organization that they keep in mind. They will answer the question "why are you (or were you) in the job that you have in mind?" The list is likely to look something like as follows.
- $ - bread and butter
- $ - wealth
- Belief in the mission, want to do good things
- Professional growth
- Status or prestige of position
- Status or prestige of the organization
- My associates
- Working conditions, atmosphere
- Personal recognition
- Work ethic
They will then choose the top 5 on the list.
They will order the 5.
They will place these on a grid.
We will act as if these fifteen are all in one group or organization and seek reactions.
We have just presented something about employee expectations that actually help us understand the importance of recognizing such differences about others in the organization in order to determine how to act as a leader to insure success. There is nothing inherently wrong or devious about any of these as long as the personal expectations are congruent or neutral to the objectives of the organization.
[Note appendix B that provides an illustration of the leader's responsibility to think about how to bring into reasonable congruency individual expectations and group or organizational goals.]
It has been my objective to define leadership as an influence among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes. I have suggested that each member of a group theoretically can exercise the responsibility of leadership. Moreover, to be successful I have suggested the following essential elements of leadership.
Successful leaders have the ability to develop a vision of the possible.
Successful leaders must have a clear understanding of themselves; the expectations, experiences, needs, and interaction patterns of others in the group or organization; and an understanding of the tasks to be accomplished. (It is a part of this element that we explored in more depth.)
The successful leader pays as much attention to competency power as compared to other aspects of power.
Successful leaders will be transforming leaders.
Successful leaders ask the question, "Leadership for what purpose and common good?"
And yes, while some may believe that leaders are born, I like to believe that successful leaders can be made
or at least made better.
Appleton, J.R., Briggs, C.M., and Rhatigan J.J. Pieces of Eight. Portland, Ore.: NASPA Institute of Research and Development, 1978
Bennis, Warren. On Becoming A Leader. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1989.
Bennis, W. and Goldsmith, J. Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming A Leader. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994.
Bennis, W. and Nanus, B. Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
Burns, James McGregor. Leadership. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978.
DePree, Max. Leadership Is an Art. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc, 1989.
Gardner, John W. On Leadership. New York: McMillan, Inc., 1990.
Heenan, David A. and Bennis, Warren. Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999.
Moore, Paul L, editor. Managing the Political Dimensiion of Student Affairs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1995. Chapter 1, The Context, written by James R. Appleton.
Rost, Joseph C. Leadership For The Twenty-First Century. New York: Praeger, 1991.
What A Leader Actually Does
|helps group understand purpose and potential
develops cohesions or a workable level of unity
|informs or explains
|satisfies group/individual emotional needs
|supports- real or psychological
||serves as spokesperson serves as a symbol
integrates thinking of others
|directs -acts with authority