|Other Papers||Have we created a cult of leadership?
A contrarian view of the current excitement about leadership
Develop and grow or die?
An opportunity for you to be a more effective leader
Don't judge a book by its cover
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer
Update on leadership: Where does its future lie?
A paper by Dr Roger Collins
Notwithstanding the sound case for leadership, in this article I will present some caveats that may alert us as to the risks of over expecting and over selling leadership as a factor in organizational success and positive work experiences. In making this case I will present four issues for consideration. First, the evidence of the impact of leadership on organizational performance is still in its infancy and claims often outstrip the available evidence. Second, in many situations effective leadership cannot be considered in isolation from effective management. Third, effective leadership is often effective because it is one in a configuration of factors that leads to high performance. And finally, for a number of reasons we need to seriously consider substitutes for leadership.
Until recently our ability to robustly evaluate the impact of leadership on organizational performance has been limited by our research designs and our statistical and analytical techniques. The challenges are many. These include the difficulty of unraveling the impact of leadership from other causal variables, the need for longitudinal data to enable time series analyses, the need for multi level organizational analysis and the availability of techniques such as hierarchical linear modeling to assess the direction and strength of the casual linkages.
What data is available indicates that whilst for example corporate leadership can make a difference, its impact may often be small. One such study by Marianne Bertrand and Antoinette Schoar (2003) indicates that CEOs in Fortune 500 firms accounted for about 5% of their firm's financial performance. But notwithstanding, such studies as this one, and the impressive work of Phil Rosenzweig (2007) of IMD indicate how difficult it is to reliably identify the leadership contribution.
This raises a second issue. Our efforts to identify just one or even a small number of factors that determine organizational success are fraught with risk. Rosenzweig demolishes much of the work of gurus such as Peters and Waterman and Collins and Porras. He highlights how many of the factors in which we are interested are interrelated and many of the factors, such as leadership and culture that we think lead to performance, are more often attributions based on company performance. Rosenzweig's account of Percy Barnevik's abrupt conversion in ABB from rooster to feather duster is a salutary reminder of how writers on leadership so easily confound our understanding. Our reality is that our current attempts to establish the importance of leadership or any other single factor are in their infancy. Accordingly we need to be careful of our claims for leadership.
A third consideration is in part definitional and in part systemic. Many authors, executives and speakers use leadership as a substitute term for management. I would argue that this confounds rather than simplifies our considerations. In addition, what enables many leaders to be effective, management, has taken a poor second place. So let me put the case for how these roles add value in different yet complementary ways acknowledging that there is a grey area in which the role distinction breaks down.
In a recent article Morgan Mc Call (2010) has produced a meta analysis of what constitutes leadership. He defines leadership as: "Creating a context in which other people can reach their full potential in serving the organization's mission. Context is created by the ways a person in a leadership role addresses five demands:
If we were to limit management to five contributions they might be:
In sum, managers, through their reliance on structure, position descriptions, training, feedback and rewards can ensure compliance to satisfactory performance. Leaders rely more on their own behaviour and attributes together with a greater emphasis on the softer influence of vision and values with the potential to enable volunteers to deliver outstanding performance.
In many organisational roles incumbents are required to contribute as both leaders and managers. A CEO is expected to be both leader and manager. So what becomes critical is first, recognizing that these roles are often interdependent in terms of the effectiveness of an individual's contribution. And second, the issue of determining the right balance of contribution between the two roles. Some organizations may at times be over led and undermanaged or vice versa.
So in sum, there is a risk that we over emphasise the value of the role and contribution of leadership at the expense of effective management. Both are necessary but rarely sufficient.
Finally, we may need to pay increased attention to substitutes for leadership. If we think of how leaders add value, there are other organizational processes and characteristics that can shape human behaviour with similar outcomes. These include the internalisation of company values reflected in a strong cultures that can guide decision making and behaviour, client feedback, rewards and recognition that reinforce appropriate behaviour, stories and documents that communicate direction and strategy, and self leadership that enables individuals to be more pro active in new or complex situations. Because leaders may be physically absent or even ineffective it is important to recognize that we may need to invest in these substitutes. In turn, these considerations serve to remind us that a heavy emphasis and reliance on leadership without the integration and alignment of other organizational systems and processes can increase our vulnerability to leaders who fail.
In conclusion, history records the role and the contributions that are widely attributed to political, military and corporate leaders. Our current global and local political and economic circumstances are such that, not surprisingly, many look to leadership at least as a catalyst for longer term solutions. In our minds leadership is often a major factor in resolving crisis situations, turning around performance, starting up new enterprises and engaging organizational members and clients. Yet the phenomenon of leadership is not as straightforward as many may assume. For those of us who are committed to developing leadership effectiveness it behooves us to move beyond the common attributions that we ascribe to leaders and to continue to explore the complexities of leadership, organisational dynamics and performance. Only as we continue to do this will we better understand the nature, the potential and the limitations of leadership.
Rosenzweig Phil, ( 2007 ) The Halo Effect: how managers let themselves be deceived. London, Pocket Books.
Bertrand, Marianne and Schoar, Antoinette (2003) Managing With Style: the effect of managers on firm policies The Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 2003, Vol. 118 (4), 1169-1208
|Dr Roger Collins
Sydney Australia 0408 276 430|
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