Session 02 - Barker, R.A. (1997). How can we train leaders if we do not know what leadership is Hum - Human Relations Vol 50 N0 4 1997 How Can We Train

Session 02 - Barker, R.A. (1997). How can we train leaders if we do not know what leadership is Hum

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Unformatted text preview: Human Relations, Vol. 50, N0. 4, 1997 How Can We Train Leaders if We Do Not Know What Leadership Is? Richard A. Barkerl’2 Views of leadership that focus on the traits and behaviors of the leader are commonly used to develop training programs. Although these leadership training programs have some application, they suffer from several problems. First, there is no reasonable agreement on what traits or behaviors are leadership traits or behaviors. Second, there is no way to differentiate what makes a good leader from what makes an effective manager or an effective person. And third, people who emerge from these training programs rarely become what anyone might define as good leaders. A view of leadership as a community development process is explored as an alternative to traditional leadership approaches, and its implications for training and education are discussed. KEY WORDS: leadership; ethics; socially constructed reality; training; management; mores. INTRODUCTION “If we know all too much about our leaders, we know far too little about leadership” (Burns, 1978, p. 1). Thus, Burns introduced us to his ra- tionale for exploring a new perspective—a revolutionary new paradigm he called transforming leadership. Burns was clearly trying to imply that lead- ership is something different from leaders, that is, leader traits and behaviors. This intent is evident in his definition of leadership: “leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values, various economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize goals independently or mutu- ally held by both leaders and followers” (p. 425). The two keys to this definition that seem to have escaped many current writers who discuss 1School of Management, Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York 12601. 2Requests for reprints should be directed to Richard A. Barker, School of Management, Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York 12601. 343 0018—7267/97/0400 ‘0343$12.50/l © 1997 The Tavistock Institute 344 Barker transformational leadership are (1) his admonition that the nature of the goals is crucial—that is, if they are not mutual they may be independently held, but in any case they must be related and oriented toward an end value—and (2) the process is reciprocal and it happens within a context of competition and conflict. But what have we done with the study of leadership in the years since Burns made these propositions? We have reduced it to slogans: “managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing” (Bennis & Nanus, 1985, p. 21). We have equated it with economic success and manipulating people: “leadership is measured by success and effectiveness. A leader is successful when the person he or she is trying to influence demonstrates the desired behavior” (Forbes, 1991, p. 70). We have confused it with management: “successful leaders and managers must use power—to influence others, to monitor results, and to sanction per- formance” (Winter, 1991, p. 77). We have associated it with authority: “leadership has traditionally been synonymous with authority, and authority has traditionally been understood as the ability to command others, control subordinates, and make all the truly important decisions yourself” (Katzen- bach & Smith, 1992, p. 129). We have become mired in an obsession with the rich and powerful, with traits, characteristics, behaviors, roles, styles, and abilities of people who by hook or by crook have obtained high posi- tions, and we know little if anything more about leadership: “students of leadership will be interested in shedding light on the dominant background characteristics of the elite, their homogeneity, and behavioral patterns” (Bassiry & Dekmejian, 1993, p. 47). Virtually every definition of leadership encountered in both scholarly and practitioner oriented writings—that is, if one is actually offered—fo- cuses on the knowle dges, skills, abilities, and traits of the leader which are presumed to be the most successful in getting followers to do what the leader wants them to do. Consider this quote by DuBrin (1990): “leaders influence people to do things through the use of power and authority” (p. 257). Even though DuBrin defined leadership as “the process of influencing the activities of an individual or group to achieve certain objectives in a given situation” (p. 255), it is clear that he was conceptualizing the “proc- ess” of leadership as a linear set of goal-oriented actions by the leader, and certainly not in the same plane as the process of conflict and compe- tition described by Burns (1978). At least DuBrin offered a definition. Not defining leadership seems to be an accepted practice among scholars who discuss leadership. Rost (1991) analyzed a total of 587 works that referred to leadership in their titles and found that fully 366 of them did not specify any definition of leadership. Those authors apparently assumed that everyone knows what How Can We Train Leaders? 345 leadership is. It will be the contention of this article that most authors are unaware of their reliance upon a very old paradigm of leadership that is beginning to conflict with the realities of the modern world. What follows is not as much a critique of specifically articulated theo- ries of leadership as a criticism of the constructual framework that has been used to develop those theories. The focus shall be upon the essential con- struct of leadership, and upon the failure of the prevailing construct to solve the problems most leadership scholars address. Finally, a new con- ceptual idea will be stated, and its implications explored. THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCT OF LEADERSHIP As Kuhn (1970) observed, scientists do not begin research until they believe they have firm answers to basic metaphysical questions: What is the nature of the universe? How are its entities interconnected? What can legitimately be asked about these entities and their interrelationships? And, so forth. Social scientists must be gin with beliefs about human nature, about what is wrong with people, and about how social and personal problems can be fixed. Through these beliefs, they structure and articulate the prob- lems to be solved, and this structure will necessarily dictate the nature of the solutions. Leadership has been advocated as a solution to particular personal, social, and organizational problems. The problem is that the prob- lems to be solved have not been well defined. Or perhaps, more accurately, they have been defined according to old and inappropriate paradigms. So, the proposed solutions just do not work when applied to the modern world. What do practione rs think leadership is? Given that scholars routinely do not define it, one might assume that there is a consistent leadership construct or myth among the general population. An informal survey of 110 managers, administrators, and professionals of various ethnic back- grounds who worked for various public and private organizations in the mid-Hudson region of New York State was conducted in various settings, none of which had any direct links to the study of leadership. They were asked to complete (in writing) the following sentence: “leadership is a(n) Fifty nine respondents (54%) defined leadership as a skill or ability. Six defined it as a role or position. Thirteen (12%) defined it as an action. Another 13 offered no definition at all, that is, they wrote what leadership is about or what it relates to or what it is concerned with, but not what it is. The remaining respondents suggested that it is a responsibility, a weapon, a process, a function of management, a factor, a lifestyle, or an experience. Three suggested that it is an influencing relationship. 346 Barker One might expect more consistency from students of the subject. A post hoc survey was conducted on the final exams of 181 undergraduate students in an organizational behavior class who responded to an item spe- cifically asking them to define leadership. Even though the text used in the class defined leadership as an ability, only 89 students (49%) defined it that way. Students were exposed to other definitions and encouraged to think of their own, but thirty two (18%) did not define leadership directly at all. The remaining definitions fell into categories similar to the ones listed above. Although it can be argued that these were not good students in the sense that they did not assimilate the information in the text or lectures, many of them may have relied upon their general social beliefs about leadership, so statement of the construct is similar for both samples. Rost (1991) completed a thorough analysis of the theories, origins, and uses of the word leadership. He concluded that the words used to define leadership are contradictory, the models are discrepant, and the content of leadership is confused with the nature of leadership. In other words, the study of leadership as an academic discipline is in shambles. Sources of this confusion must lie in an inappropriate application of basic assump- tions: the use of old ideas to explain new phenomena. Despite the apparent inconsistencies, leadership studies have not pro- ceeded without commitment to a canon of consistency: a conceptual basis for the professional language. This canon is based in a feudal paradigm of governance and social structure (Barker, 1994). The feudal paradigm was best described by Machiavelli (1981), who was the first to study the traits and behaviors of successful and unsuccessful leaders to derive a theory of effective leadership. Briefly, the paradigm can be characterized as approxi- mating the structure of a feudal kingdom: an image of a powerful male leader who sits atop a hierarchical structure directing and controlling the activities of subjects toward the achievement of the leader’s goals. The leader’s goals are normally centered about the defense of the kingdom and the acquisition of new territory through waging and winning war. Of course, in the industrial world, territory consists of market share and financial and material assets, and warfare is economic in nature. According to Harré (1970), descriptive terms are defined and used to ensure regularity by copying or representing a particular paradigm, in this way perpetuating its influence. The influence of the feudal paradigm of leadership is so compelling, that many authors feel no need to define the term leadership. The feudal view of leadership has become a permanent fact upon which industrial leadership theories are supposed to be built. Differing categorical terms of leadership—e.g., transformational, transac- tional, and charismatic—all use the same model as a source for their meaning and application. In other words, the function of each of the terms How Can We Train Leaders? 347 commonly used within the industrial paradigm leadership is to indicate a variation of the form “man at the top,” and how that form is manifested. The term leadership, then, is defined ostensively while pointing to someone who occupies a high position. The feudal paradigm in its original form can still be effectively applied to organizations that will likely maintain hierarchical structures, such as the military. However, management trends indicate that future successful organizations are not likely to have hierarchies in the traditional sense, but circular or linear structures (Dobyns & Crawford-Mason, 1991). It is pos- sible that managers of the future will not even meet most of their employees, but merely receive their work through computer networks. If these trends materialize as commonplace, a new paradigm of leadership will necessarily emerge. How will this paradigm take shape? Gastil (1994), in an attempt to define democratic leadership, suggested that leaders can help to develop followers’ emotional maturity and moral reasoning abilities, but then went on to admonish leaders to not become substitute parents. How does one address the emotional maturity and moral reasoning of others without becoming parental? And more broadly, if lead- ership is conceptualized as a theory of supe rvision—that is as an ability or activity that has as its goal getting others to do what the leader wants them to do (which is not the view of Gastil)—then why do leadership scholars not study parents? Perhaps the problem with the old paradigm is, as Rost and Burns have suggested, a focus upon the leader rather than upon the process of leadership. Is leadership all about an ability, or about a rela- tionship? Consider the word leadership itself. Other words that end in the suffix -ship can be used to denote a skill, such as in the words statesmanship, seamanship, or craftsmanship, or can also be used to indicate a relationship as in partnership, apprenticeship , fellowship, and in the word relationship it- self. It seems we potentially have a legitimate semantic choice to use the word leadership either to indicate an ability or skill, or to indicate a rela- tionship. LEADERSI-HP AS AN ABILITY A reading of articles in the Leadership Quarterly between Spring 1991 and Winter 1992 (two volumes) begins with a comparison of the “leader- ship” skills of recent presidents (Kellerman, 1991), continues with a taxonomy of descriptions of leader behavior culled from 65 authors (Fleish- man, Mumford, Zaccaro, Levin, Korotkin, & Hein, 1991), and ends with management behavior dimensions (Lindell & Rosenqvist, 1992). With one possible exception, every article focuses on leader abilities, traits, or be- 348 Barker haviors. The one exception is a laudable attempt to compare leadership with liberalism (Weaver, 1991). The only article with the words “transfor- mational leadership” in the title portrays leadership as an option for self-transcendence (Carey, 1992). Othe rwise, transformational leadership is advocated as an effective method for manipulating followers into doing what the leader wants them to do: “transformational leaders encourage charismatically-le d followers to develop their skills so that they might even- tually demonstrate initiative in working for the leader’s goals” (Graham, 1991, p. 116). This concept is clearly not consistent with Burns’ (1978) defi- nition of transforming leadership as a relationship, but is consistent with the view of leadership as a skill or an ability. Focus on the leader’s abilities and traits serves two important social functions: hope for salvation and blame for failure. The leader has been likened to “a saviorlike essence in a world that constantly needs saving” (Rost, 1991, p. 94), and leadership to a “social delusion that allows ‘fol- lowers’ to escape responsibility for their own actions and inactions” (Gemmill & Oakley, 1992, p. 119). Rost contended that the popular view of leadership has its foundations in Hollywood, folkloric, and Old West images of what men do as leaders. Gemmill and Oakley viewed leadership as a myth, the major function of which is to preserve the existing social systems and structures by blaming the problems on inadequate leadership abilities and not on the systems themselves. The re is a certain value in focusing on the abilities and characteristics of leaders, particularly when developing a leadership training program for consumption. Leadership training has become an industry, pandering to the egos of corporate executives by equipping them with the secret formulas for achieving saviorhood. Not to mention that it is relatively easy to develop the seven steps of this or the ten ways of that, and to present these ways and steps very effectively. But as every trainer who has done so, and is candid, will attest, the value of these ways and steps rarely finds its way beyond the classroom. What sounds good in the training seminar may not translate well into practice. The problem of translation is based in the gap between the simplistic ways and steps, and the complexities of social and organizational processes. The efficacy of current leadership training is doubtful because, even if the abilities, behavior, and characteristics of successful leaders could be identified, people generally cannot assimilate them without changing their personalities and world views (Rost, 1993). Fleishman et al. (1991) listed 499 dimensions of leader behavior from 65 different systems. Naturally, many dimensions were repeated. Are individuals required to manifest all these dimensions before becoming leaders? One system had 23 dimensions. Even if a trainer were since re about training leaders to enhance their abili- How Can We Train Leaders? 349 ties, and focused upon this one system, how could that be accomplished? Further, as Rost (1993) pointed out, how do the abilities of an effective leader within any of these systems differ from the abilities of an effective manager, or an effective person? MANAGEMENT AS AN ABILITY When we think of the ability of leaders, we are probably thinking of the ability of leaders to manage. Management includes the tasks of goal setting, strategic and operational planning, providing structure, organizing and directing the activities of others, motivating others to pursue organ- izational goals, manipulating, and controlling outcomes and organizational systems, and making money for owners. Management can be conceptual- ized as a skill or set of behaviors: the ability to allocate and control resources to achieve specific, planned objectives. By this definition, every- one can be a manager. Everyone has specific personal objectives and personal resources. People are resources. So the act of setting goals and getting people to do things to achieve those goals is a function of man- agement—often called directing. The fundamental difference between leadership and management lies in their respective functions for organizations and for society. The function of leadership is to create change while the function of management is to create stability. Stability is created by managing routine, incremental, and continuous change by planning, organizing, directing, controlling, and effec- tive staffing. The purpose of management is to stabilize the orientation of the organization by maintaining successful patterns of action through the development and control of standard operating procedures. Strategic or so- cial change can be chaotic. Strategic change is often nonroutine, nonincre- mental, and discontinuous change which alters the structure and overall orientation of the organization or its components (Tichy, 1983). Leadership creates new patterns of action and new belief systems. Management protects stabilized patterns and beliefs. The function of management regarding change is to anticipate change and to adapt to it, but not to create it. Management is primarily a rational activity. Rational methods are par- ticularly good for creating and maintaining stability. The manager views the organization as a mechanistic system which can be controlled and ad- justed through the acquisition and analysis of information. Inefficient or failing organizational systems are presumed to be losing energy because there is chaos somewhere in the system. To fix the problem, the manager finds a way to remove the chaos and to restore order to the system. Prob- lem solving is therefore a rational process of defining the problem, generating and selecting alternatives, and implementing and evaluating the 350 Barker solution. The system is objective, predictable, and controllable through the acquisition and analysis of information about the system and its workings. Skills training, particularly in problem solving, is very effective when fo- cused upon the rational activities of management. The view of leadership as management ability is the basis of the in- dustrial paradigm of leadership. This paradigm relies upon the simplistic concept of the leader as a giver of direction and as a manipulator of will, who frames and solves specific management or social problems. Like th...
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