What is 21st Century Leadership?
Many have attempted to define what leadership is. Galbraith for example:
“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” (Galbraith:1977b)
This has set the platform for many others to follow in their expression of what leadership means. Xin puts forward a number of the views of what leadership has been considered over the century:
“the ability to impose the will of the leader on those led and to induce obedience, respect, loyalty, and cooperation” (Moore,1927 in Xin:1997) “a source of influence over others” (Weber, 1947 in Xin:1997) “the activity of persuading people to cooperate in the achievement of a common objective” (Koontz,1955 in Xin:1997) “the influential increment over and above mechanical compliance with routine directions of the organisation” (Katz & Katn,1978 in Xin:1997) “the process act of influencing the activities of an organised group in its efforts toward goal setting and goal achievement” (Burke,1982 in Xin:1997) “the process by which an individual motivates or influences others to forego self-interest in the interest of a collective vision, and to contribute to the attainment of that vision and to the collective by making significant self-sacrifices over and above the call of duty willingly” (House, 1993 in Xin:1997) (Xin:1997:Chapter11)
As our primary image of the leader originally came from the military, leaders were once considered great because of their hero status, especially military heroes. Hero worship is both good and bad. Good if it inspires us to greater heights, but bad if it disempowers us and makes us dependent on our hero. The military hero knows where to go and how to get there so they can ‘lead’ from the front. This view has in some ways been transferred to how organisations have been led.
Leadership in organisations therefore is too often confused with the question of how people in positions of authority can influence employees to pull in the same direction. Fundamentally this is the traditional view, with studies having taken place in the early stages of the industrial revolution, making up the foundation of what we now call the science of organisational management. Some of the earliest systematic studies of industrialised organisations were by Taylor, Gantt and Gilbreth. They were “practical managers, driven by the problems of their time to a preoccupation with the relationship between the individual and the organisation of the enterprise in which they worked”(Lupton:1977:24). As Hitt writes, “This century has witnessed the emergence of three quite different organisational paradigms” (Hitt:1995:25): or as Limerick, Cunnington and Crowther address, this development of the science of management has been divided into what they refer to as 3 blueprints (Limerick et al:1998:27).
The 1st Blueprint: “the traditional classical approach to management, which dominated western thinking from the turn of the century to well into the 1930’s, was a child of the Industrial Revolution. It was born in a society concerned with increasing productivity and industrial output” (Limerick et al:1998:29). “There have been a number of devastating critiques of classical theory in the management literature. At the heart of it all is a trenchant attack on the impersonal, dehumanising autocracy of such a system, a legacy of nineteenth century social stratification” (Limerick et al:1998:31).
The 2nd Blueprint: “The focus (then) shifted from the formal organisation to the informal workgroup. The famous Hawthorne studies conducted at the Hawthorne works at the Western Electric Company from 1922 to 1933 brought about a revolution in the way human nature and the work situation were thought about”. Still considered significant, the study showed that the work group “played an important role – perhaps even more important than that of management- in determining the attitudes of performance of individual workers. The scene was set for the emergence of a new conception of people, expressed in the doctrine of social man. Money and economic motivations were now seen to be of secondary importance to how workers felt about their jobs. This led management to a focus on collectivity- on groups” (Limerick et al:1998:32).
“The human relations philosophy and its’ concern for social man lasted until the recession of 1957 – 58. The emphasis then shifted human relations to human resources.” “The human resources movement expanded the focus of the second blueprint from a concern with social group-level phenomena to a concern with the interface between individual and organisational effectiveness. It still located the individual firmly in the group context, however” (Limerick et al:1998:33).
The 3rd Blueprint: “Yet sometime in the decade of between 1960 and 1970, the strategy for mass marketing, production and distribution of standardised encapsulated in the 1st and 2nd Blueprints began to fail “(Limerick et al:1998:35). “Dramatic changes in the world economy from the 1960’s on, saw a number of less developed economies enter the global marketplace producing goods in direct competition to developed economies such as the US. With production costs in these less developed economies a fraction of what the US was, the US model started to show signs of redundancy (Limerick et al:1998:36). A new model was developed, known as the open system model of management (Limerick et al:1998:37). This model contrasted to the 2nd Blueprint in so much as it focussed on what was happening outside the organisation, as opposed to that which was happening inside. The 3rd Blueprint argued that no one system of management would the optimum method. Rather, they concluded “that any system adopted should be in contingent on the degree of change or stability in the environment of the organisation. They distinguished between two systems”: mechanistic (organisations displaying characteristics of 1st Blueprint); and
Organic (organisations displaying characteristics of 2nd Blueprint) (Limerick et al:1998:37). This model “gained in popularity in the 1960’s and dominated the 1970’s” (Limerick et al:1998:39). It was said that the aim of systems theory was to facilitate better understanding in a complex environment” (Johnson in Limerick et al:1998:39), “relating the firm to its environment and administratively upon coordinating department specialties and points of view” (Andrews & Christensen in Limerick et al:1998:39).Naturally therefore, the model developed into an “intricate, complex contingency theory “ (Limerick et al:1998:40). Subsequent to this, by the mid 1970’s a variation of this theory was developed in the form of a ‘matrix’, whereby a suitable mix of management focus could be drawn upon depending upon the particular organisational requirements. Despite the complexities of this system, the one characteristic that seemed to arise out of this model was the emphasis on the unity of the TEAM: both the “development of team skills and the enhancement of team spirit” (Limerick et al:1998:40). As has been already highlighted, due to the development of the organisation in the Industrial era, the view of leadership has developed. Gemmill and Oakley suggested that “as a result of deeply ingrained cultural assumptions, approaches to the study of leadership usually start with the idea that leaders are unquestionably necessary for the functioning of an organisation” (Gemmill & Oakley:1992:113). As Watkins noted “Traditional stances in Leadership take for granted the one-directional flow from the leader to the led” (Watkins:1989:10). However Drucker poses that the emerging world as being of somewhat different form to that which all of the above theories have been based upon (Drucker:1997:19), thereby necessitating a change in our perspective.
Leadership and management issues, have dominated human resource management journals for the last decade (Hart & Quinn:1993:544) and it appears as though it will continue. With the world continuing in its’ rate of development, further discussion is needed. In the eighties and early nineties social and economic uncertainties affected all countries. Unparalleled changes in the English speaking world occurred, particularly the UK, the USA and Australia (OECD: 1992:15). Resulting difficulties included the weakening of the middle class, the widening of the gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged classes, historically high levels of unemployment, the growth of foreign debt and the loss of economic competitiveness. These global realities as well as such as decreasing birthrates, retirement ages and the phenomenon of insufficient population numbers being available to meet the required demand for human resources, leads Drucker to believe that there will be therefore a different set of governing factors as we progress into the next millennium (Drucker:1997:20). It follows then that a new organisational theory is needed. Limerick, Cunnington and Crowther present what they see as a new management process required for such organisations, given the times (Limerick et al :1998:231). Referred to as the 4th Blueprint, Limerick et al outline the characteristics that an organisation would be. Centred on a principle of participation, the new organisation utilises a new perspective (relative to the traditional view) of what leadership is required.
The 4th Blueprint puts forth that the concept of leadership necessarily changes once the concept of authority is disregarded and one of participation is adopted. Fundamentally, therefore, with the participative approach, the concept of who leads is a much broader concept. In such a model, everyone within the organisation can be seen as being a leader, an independent, self-regulating team player that is assisting the organisation to a greater, degree of success, whatever that may be. Limerick et al note that the 4th Blueprint is a fusion of several theorist’s views of a post-corporate era. Drucker proposes that knowledge is put forward as the variable that will determine who –which society- succeeds and which don’t (Limerick et al:1998:193). Spender in Limerick et al suggests that working patterns are changing so that employment may be found in ‘portfolio’ work rather than the traditional job (Limerick et al:1998:193).Limerick et al continue by noting that 4th ”Blueprint participants will confront immense uncertainty and massive challenges with regard to their work: “reconstructing their workplaces so that they are linked, to the greatest extent possible, to human and environmental well being, rather than to the the negative and degrading effects that some associate with industrial and corporate processes” (Limerick et al:1998:194). They continue that while “we can be guided by the utilitarian, performance –oriented values of corporate blueprints, or we can attempt to actualise our dreams of contributive, supportive systems of action in our social order and in our workplace” (Limerick et al:1998:194-5).
Organisations of the future need everyone thinking about what new directions to pursue. No one person can now lead from the front. Future leadership will depend on complex knowledge and innovation from all. Innovators will lead by showing where an industry is likely to go next. The implication of this is that leaders will not need to be inside an organisation to achieve this. We already speak of ‘market leaders’. It follows then that leadership can come from anywhere. It could be said that this form of leadership is about innovation, rather than about developing personal influence skills to motivate lacklustre employees. As knowledge workers become empowered enough to think like entrepreneurs, perhaps they will look outside of the organisation for leadership if suitable leadership is not provided inside.
Second to this, is the distinction between the approaches to organisations from a philosophical viewpoint. Rogers puts forward that the distinction between authoritative and participative leadership approaches can be explained in what is referred to as a male and female ethos (Rogers:1988:1). The male ethos is characterised by a competitive operating style; a hierarchical organisational structure; a basic objective of winning; a rational problem-solving style; and other characteristics such as high control, unemotional, analytical and strategic methodologies (Rogers:1988:1-8). The female-orientated organisation is by characterised by a cooperative operating style; a team organisational structure; a basic objective of quality output; an intuitive and rational problem-solving style; and other characteristics such as low control, empathetic, collaborative and high performance standards (Rogers:1988:1-8). Therefore, in a participative leadership approach, neither the concept of leadership nor authoritarian hierarchical rule exists. I think that at present, whilst it could be argued that we are moving towards such an ideal, our governments are controlled by organisations and ethics of the traditional male ethos of accountability, politics, power and securing and maintaining ones’ personal (financial) position. These views are in principle I believe diametrically opposed to the ethics of the female ethos.
I think that the question therefore needs to be asked. If these two philosophies are at opposite ends of the managerial and leadership spectrum, at what point will there be a fundamental change? To me such a switch in approaches of interrelating to, and the organisation of people, will be like switching the side of the road we drive on from one direction to the opposite. Unless it is done in one synchronised movement, there will be chaos. Whilst this metaphor assumes a relatively simple level of complexity, such a change of philosophical approach in the way we as human beings have been socialised to interact, will prevent such a straight forward solution to occur. I think then that this raises another question as to whether we as a society can accept a mutually exclusive view of these two ethos-male and female, or whether infact that all the characteristics displayed by them should exist somehow interdependantly.
Nevertheless, the current period of global development has highlighted the need to reconceptualise what it is that is required for us as a society to continue to function and enjoy the level of economic success that we have experienced in the past. Of consequence, the need to redefine the role of the organisation and how it functions has been highlighted. However in this process of redefining, it has become apparent that much broader than the organisation are the relationships between individuals of society and the very ethos that motivate our interaction on a daily basis. Merely reorganising organisations will not achieve much without society accepting the need for and the driving of , the philosophical developments necessary.
It would appear that it is now accepted that the success of both governments and business organisations is largely dependent upon quality leadership. I would extend that the success of society is also dependent upon quality leadership. However, it is the definition of leadership that is very much still being debated. If the definition of leadership as proposed in the female ethos was to be adopted, social participants would play a much greater empowered role in society, leading small productive groups as equals. This then raises other questions such as how we as a society would arrive at an empowered model, without becoming dependant upon the being led stage? Perhaps then, what is required to ensure that the 4th Blueprint vision is realised, is to lead society to the belief that this is a realistic, viable alternative to the current being led model. Yet again herein lies the dilemma. At what point does ‘being led’ as a society cease, and leading as empowered individuals begin? It is for this reason that leadership and management issues will continue to be investigated and debated.
Whilst the focus of this essay has been that of organisations and its’ leadership, I hope to have shown that as organisations are only a product of our social relationships, and any discussion needs to include what we as a society are developing into.
In my next blog in this series, I plan to discuss Changing Agendas in Leadership.
Characteristics of a Leader image courtesy of Characteristics of Leaders Accessed 10th September 2013
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– ©David L Page 21/03/1999
– updated ©David L Page 12/09/2013
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