18- The Premodern Leader: Style One. II. The Challenges

November 24, 2008

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II. The Challenges

The positive and perhaps overly optimistic portrait of the wise leader which I offered in the previous blog needs to be moderated—for the wise leader is not always so gracious and delighted with the transition of leadership to the next generation.

The Leader’s Ambivalence

The premodern leader can at times be quite resistant to this transition and may be threatened by the acquisition of new knowledge and additional experiences by younger men and women. This threat and resistance is often couched in ambivalence. The wise leader teaches and encourages education, yet doesn’t want the new kid on the block to become too smart or too experienced. I have worked with many young men and women from Asia who come to the United States to obtain a Masters Degree in Management. Their father (and presumably their mother) fully supports them in obtaining this education. They provide the funds to support this advanced education and enable their son or daughter to take time off from their life in Asia in order to study in the United States. Yet, when these young men and women return home, freshly “educated” in the new models of management, finance and marketing, they often bump up against a surprisingly resistant parent. The outcry of frustration is common (though usually softly spoken by my Asian students): “Why did my father [mother] pay for this education if he [she] doesn’t want me to use it!!” I now suggest strategies whereby they “ease in” their suggestions for change and improvement. They look with “appreciation” on the practices of their father or mother that are fully aligned with contemporary management practices.

The Followers’ Ambivalence

Even when the wise leader is fully open to the transition in leadership, there is often a hesitation on the part of other members of the organization to acknowledge, let alone actively support, this transition. They have relied for many years on the wisdom of the “old” leader and do not yet trust the competence of the new leader—he or she is not yet “tested” as to the practicality of their wisdom. Do we dare risk relying on this person’s experience, when we have the wise, old leader to guide us? Ironically, even when the knowledge and expertise of the old leader is now “out-of-date” – which is very common in our technologically-driving, postmodern world—there is still a yearning for that which is known and reliable. The old leader either no longer has an agenda to press on the organization or has an agenda that is widely acknowledged and which other members of the organization can factor in when taking into account the advise or guidance offered by the old leader. Wisdom, in other words, is based not just on the experience and expertise of the wise leader; it also is based on the experience of those who follow this leader: the followers are “wise” about the leader’s “wisdom.”

Succession Planning

The challenge for this form of leadership can thus be summed up in two words” SUCCESSION PLANNING. When a wise leader is playing a key role in an organization, then plans must begin very early regarding the preparation of other men and women to assume the wise old leader’s role. This involves not just the mentoring of the new leader(s) by the old leader, but also the building of formal programs that prepare the organization for this transition in leadership. In some instances, these formal programs involve placing a new person in an interim leadership role (alongside the old leader); in other instances, it means the use of rituals and rites regarding the succession; in yet other instances, it means sending the new leader off for additional training or education. With regard to this third option, I have always been impressed with the policy of many religious orders (particularly orders of Catholic nuns) to send someone who is about to assume a position of leadership to an executive leadership program (at Harvard, Yale or a comparable institution). This provides the new leader with an opportunity not only to step away from their own organization to gain a fresh perspective, but also to return to their home organization with new credibility (like Alexander the Great) and with reassuring breadth and depth of “wisdom.”

We are still, in many ways, living in premodern organizations and living in the back of our minds and hearts in a world that yearns for men and women of wisdom. It is important—perhaps essential—that we recognize this premodern reality and acknowledge this premodern yearning for a certain type of leadership. As I will note in future blogs, we yearn also for other types of leadership and look for other types of leaders in our hybrid world of premodern, modern and postmodern social systems. 

 

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17- The Premodern Leader: Style One. I. Education and Experience

November 17, 2008

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I. Education and Experience

In my previous blog I identified three different styles of leadership that have appeared in similar form in many different models of leadership and in conjunction with premodern, modern and postmodern social systems. In the upcoming blogs I will provide a somewhat more detailed description of each leadership style and place it specifically in one of the three social systems.

We begin in the first two blogs with the premodern version of the first leadership style. In its premodern form, this leadership style focuses on WISDOM. A person is assigned leadership in a family, clan, group or organization because this person has more experience than anyone else or because this person possesses some fundamental and distinctive knowledge either because this competency is inherited or because it have been taught to the wise leader (usually as a result of this person’s inherited wealth or great promise as a young person).

Alexander the Great is certainly one of the vivid personifications of this premodern mode of leadership. Alexander was “born into greatness.” His father had been king of Macedonia and, even more importantly, Alexander displayed great potential as a young man—physically and intellectually. Perhaps most importantly, Alexander was the only pupil of one of the legendary teachers of all times: Aristotle. Thus, at a young age, Alexander was identified as a wise leader (we will also see that he is identified, as well, as a brave leader and as a leader of vision). While most WISE leaders in premodern societies don’t arrive at their leadership position until accumulating many years of experience and expertise, Alexander was able to assume a leadership role, based on wisdom, at a very early age, in large part because of not only his inheritance (father was king) and his early display of competence, but also because of his credentials as a pupil of Aristotle.

Educated for Leadership

We find that this accumulation of prestigious credentials is found not only in the ancient world of Alexander, but also in contemporary society. Men (and women) who have graduated from such universities as Harvard, Yale or Stanford are assumed to be not only prepared for leadership but also, in some way, to be deserving of leadership. They have studied hard in high school (supposedly), which enabled them to be selected to a highly competitive college or university. We see this respect (even “reverence”) for a prestigious education in the recent selection of American presidents. They have all graduated (undergraduate or graduate school) from either Harvard or Yale (Clinton, both Bushes, Obama).

The irony is that this prestigious education has rarely been directly devoted to the acquisition of leadership skills—usually because the assumption is made that leadership can’t be taught. Only character, discipline, and broad-based knowledge can (perhaps) be taught or inculcated. This is often identified as a “liberal arts” education or, in previous times, as the form of education that was becoming to a “gentleman” or “gentlewoman.” It is interesting to note that all liberal arts education up until the start of the 19th Century in the United States was devoted to such topics as moral philosophy, literature, rhetoric and theology. Science was not taught in an American college (or university) until West Point began offering courses in this “ungentlemanly” area of knowledge in the early 1800s.

Of course, there were no courses to be taught in management, finance, marketing or any related area during the 19th Century. These tasks were not to be handled by true leaders. They were to be engaged by hired hands. Courses in management were not even taught in American colleges and universities until the 20th Century. In fact, management theory and education is exclusively a product of the 20th Century and is one of the major areas of growth in American higher education.

Leadership and Experience

Even when a man or woman is not formally educated and prepared to become a leader, he or she may attain this status as a result of substantial experience in the field or organization. Harold has been selling real estate for 30 years. He knows the market in this city better than anyone. He certainly deserves to be the new managing director of this agency. Susan opened this organic food store twenty years ago – long before “green” became “golden.” She is not only the owner of this store, she is also the undisputed leader of this store. Everyone turns to her for advice and she makes all of the key decisions regarding new products, marketing and displays—despite the fact that she only comes to the store two days a week (having gown a little weary of the daily drag of operating the store). Richard has been a farmer for many years. His father and mother owned a farm and Richard grew up feeding chickens, operating and repairing farm equipment, and listening every morning to the farm reports on the local radio station. He is now working for a large agri-business operation—yet he is still turned to for advice. Through his stories and sage observations Richard still holds the attention and respect of men and women much younger than himself. He is an informal leader of the organization, even if many other people occupy positions of management at higher levels in his organization. 

What kind of experience seems to be important? We tend to value both breadth and depth of experience. We look for wisdom in someone who has “seen it all”—meaning that he or she has not remained in one place for many years, doing only one thing repeatedly. Twenty years of experience is not assigned much validity if this person has learned everything in one year and simply repetitively enacted this year of experience for twenty years. We also tend to look for wisdom among those who can reflect back on and articulate their rich experiences. They are often brilliant story-tellers, even if they usually remain rather quiet (unless asked to provide advice or guidance). These men and women often are natural (and informally-designated) mentors. They enjoy teaching those who are younger or less experienced. They take great delight in seeing other people succeed as a result of sharing their expertise and tend to view these younger or less experienced people as protégés rather than rivals. We talk in psychology about the shift in attention from personal success (one’s own accomplishments) to a sense of collective significance (the accomplishments of other people or one’s family, group or society).

Having identified some of the factors that contribute to the “making” of a wise premodern leader, I turn in the next blog to a brief description of the challenges which a premodern leader of wisdom faces—especially in a postmodern world.



16- Leadership in Premodern, Modern and Postmodern eras

November 10, 2008

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Leadership Styles

Leaders in the premodern era tended to be great men and women who were selected for their character and education. Great men not only led organizations, they also influenced history and established societal values. Leaders were either born to greatness or provided with an elitist program of liberal arts and mentorship. They tended to exert authority through a paternalistic concern for the welfare and proper education of those who depended on them.

By contrast, the more democratic modern era tends to emphasize structures, processes and procedures that ensure the appropriate expression of leadership and influence. Events and structures—not great people—determine the course of modern history, and values are identified as products of the system and bureaucracy rather than as products of any specific individual(s). Emphasis was thus placed not on identifying or producing a great leader (as in the premodern society), but on constructing a great system. Those who head modern organizations typically define themselves as managers rather than leaders. They were to manage and be worthy stewards of the great system that had been created by other people (the nameless and faceless designers of bureaucracies). Modern authority is expressed through the autonomy of rules, regulations, roles and organizational structures.

The postmodern world has called both the premodern and modern notions of leadership into question. The postmodern leader is neither inherently great nor is she merely a product of a great system or bureaucracy. Greatness in a postmodern society involves interaction and great alignment between potentially great people and a potentially great system.  The postmodern leader can be found at any level of an organization. Individual leadership can be effectively exerted and will be influential if applied at the right time, in the right place, in the right manner, and with regard to the right problem or goal. This contextual model of leadership requires careful consideration of both individual and organizational character and style. It also requires a tolerance for ambiguity, recognition of the need for one to learn from his or her mistakes, and a clear sense of personal aspirations. It is ultimately spiritual rather than secular in nature.

 

 

 

PREMODERN

 

 

MODERN

 

POSTMODERN

 

 

THE GREAT PERSON

[BORN TO GREATNESS AND/OR RECIPIENT OF ELITE EDUCATION]

 

 

THE GREAT SYSTEM

[MANAGER AND LEADER ARE EQUIVALENT]

 

 

 

THE GREAT

CONTEXT

[PERSON AND

SYSTEM IN

INTERACTION:

RIGHT PERSON AT RIGHT TIME IN RIGHT PLACE]

 

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE ONE

 

 

 

WISDOM

 

[MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT/MORE EXPERIENCE WITH SERVICE/PRODUCT OF ORGANIZATION THAN ANYONE ELSE IN ORGANIZATION]

 

[LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES: SUCCESSION PLANNING AND GROWING COMPETENCIES OF OTHER MEMBERS OF ORGANIZATION]

 

 

 

 

DELEGATION/

SUPERVISION

 

TEACHER/MENTOR

 

[SHARING ONE’S “WISDOM” WITH OTHERS IN ORGANIZATION]

 

 

 

 

 

LEARNER

 

[THERE IS NO ENDURING “WISDOM”/RATHER ONE MUST CONTINUE TO ACQUIRE NEW “WISDOM”]

 

 

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE TWO

 

 

BRAVERY

 

[THE “ENEMY” RESIDED OUTSIDE THE ORGANIZATION]

 

[MORE COURAGEOUS THAN AND MORE EFFECTIVE IN DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC PLANS AGAINST THE “ENEMY” THAN ANYONE ELSE IN ORGANIZATION]

 

[LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES: “ENEMY” MUST REMAIN STRONG AND MENACING AND LOYALTY MUST BE MAINTAINED AMONG ALL MEMBERS OF ORGANIZATION SO THAT “ENEMY” CAN NOT DIVIDE THE RANKS]

 

 

EMPOWERMENT

 

[THE “ENEMY” RESIDES INSIDE THE ORGANIZATION]

 

[COMMUNICATION/

CONFLICT-MGMT/

PROBLEM-SOLVING/

DECISION-MAKING]

 

 

ENTREPRENEUR

[THE “ENEMY’ RESIDES INSIDE ONESELF]

 

[PERSISTANCE AND RISK-TAKING]

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE THREE

 

VISIONARY

 

[MORE INSPIRIING THAN AND CLEARER AND MORE COMPLELLING IMAGE OF POTENTIAL FUTURE THAN ANYONE ELSE IN ORGANIZATION]

 

[LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES: THE IMAGE OF FUTURE CAN NEVER BE REALIZED OR MUST ALWAYS BE NEW IMAGE OF FUTURE AS “OLD” IMAGE BECOMES REALIZED BY ORGANIZATION]

 

 

MOTIVATING/

GOAL-SETTING AND MONITORING

 

[TRANSLATING ONE’S IMAGE OF THE FUTURE INTO PRACTICAL AND ACCOUNTABILITY STEPS]

 

 

SERVANT

 

[SUPPORTING AND ASSISTING OTHERS IN THE REALIZATION OF THEIR OWN PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE IMAGES OF THE FUTURE]

 

 

   


15- Implications of the Postmodern Condition for Leaders

November 3, 2008

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[Derived from William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Ten Themes and Variations for Postmodern Leaders and Their Coaches. and from a forthcoming book, William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Building an Appreciative Organization: Themes and Strategies for Effective Postmodern Leaders, Consultants and Coaches. For information on both books contact Pacific Soundings Press, P. O. Box 70, Harpswell, Maine 04079.]

Theme: The Postmodern Condition

Fundamental Question

What are the paradoxes, whip lashing contradictions and dizzying changes of which our world is made, and how might an appreciative perspective assist in responding to the challenges of this postmodern condition?

We bring this cluster of essays to a close by briefly examining a central tenet of the postmodern perspective—specifically with regard to leadership. We will look at the complex, unpredictable and turbulent contexts in which postmodern leaders have to choose, act and define themselves. This examination will continue in much greater detail throughout the future essays being offered on this blog. We will identify a series of themes that describe these postmodern conditions. We will not prescribe a specific strategy for addressing the challenges inherent in these themes, but rather offer a variety of perspectives on each theme, which in turn suggest a variety of different leadership strategies. In a postmodern world of fragmentation and troubling ambiguity, leaders must be open to experiencing and experimenting with their own variations on these fundamental themes.

Given the challenge of providing leadership in organizations that are filled with turbulence, unpredictability and complexity, many leaders have given up on finding a coherent set of answers to the questions they pose. They certainly don’t expect to discover a unified theory of leadership. Other leaders have grown cynical of any set of strategies or any theory that purports to tell them how to lead a 21st Century organization. Most postmodern leaders are inclined to dismiss any prescriptive model that identifies a right and wrong way of operating. Given the nature of the postmodern condition posed in this chapter, they turn instead to more contextually-based models that address the complex dynamics of most organizations.

Contextual Models of Postmodern Leadership

Abraham Maslow was among the first to recognize that there was no one right way to lead or manage. Unfortunately, he presented this notion in an obscurely titled book: Eupsychian Management. This book received little attention. Others (such as Woodward, Fiedler and Vroom) also tried to make the point, but were either too academic or located in an out-of-the-way location (such as England!). It really was not until the 1980s, when Hershey and Blanchard coined the term situational leadership that the notion of multiple models of successful leadership and management took hold among both the theorists and those who actually practice leadership and management on a daily basis.

At the heart of any contextual model are two concepts: ecology and relationships. The first concept relates to the relative influence which personality and situation have on the actions of all people—particularly leaders. While traditional models of leadership tend to focus on personal attributes, such as intelligence, honesty and dedication, postmodern models recognize the powerful role played by the complex ecology in which leadership is expressed. This ecology influences not only how a leader behaves, but also how those who encounter this leader interpret her behavior. As many behaviorists have suggested, the actions of any one person is more accurately predicted if information is available about the setting in which action is taking place than if information is available regarding this person’s personality or character.

In summarizing this ecological perspective, Malcolm Gladwell (in The Tipping Point) states that:

Character . . . isn’t what we think it is or, rather, what we want it to be. It isn’t a stable, easily identifiable set of closely related traits, and it only seems that way because of a glitch in the way our brains are organized. Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context. The reason that most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment.

From this ecological perspective, a leader isn’t successful because of her inherent talents or personality, or even the styles and skills she has acquired during her lifetime. Rather, she is successful because she creates or moves into ecological settings that are conducive to her display of effective leadership. An ecological analysis would conclude that Jack Welch was successful in running General Electric not because of his leadership skills, strategies or perspectives, but because of the GE ecology (market trends, financial conditions, the company’s life cycle, organizational culture, resources and history of the organization, and so forth). The ecologically oriented book to be written about the Welch success story would focus on the organization and surrounding environment, not just the person of Jack Welch.

In turning to the second concept, relationships, we begin with an analogy drawn by Margaret Wheatley between quantum physics and organizational functioning: “Nothing is independent of the relationships that occur. I am constantly creating the world—evoking it, not discovering it—as I participate in all its many interactions. This is a world of process, not a world of things.” We are always acting as leaders in relationship to the environment in which we find ourselves. There are moments and places within an organization when specific types of leaders are needed; furthermore, each of us can provide certain kinds of leadership functions in specific moments and places. 

Postmodern leadership is likely to be effective in an organization if there is a good match between the leader’s needs and style at that specific moment and place and the organization’s needs and style at that same moment and place. The context for leadership concerns this matching process. A leader may find, for instance, that he must be capable of and willing to shift his style when working with a relatively immature work group or with a group that is highly mature. Within this context, however, and in his working relationship with members of this group, he may help to promote their maturity, thereby necessitating yet another change in style (which may or may not fit with his own ability or willingness to shift). Similarly, the nature of a task or the processes of decision-making in the organization may change. Leaders must shift gears when entering varying situations. If they are effective, however, leaders will also influence these situations. As a result, leaders may be forced to shift roles precisely because they have helped to bring about a change in context. 

Expectations Regarding 21st Century Leadership:

Globalization, Localization and Coaching

Given the postmodern interplay between globalization and localization, we can expect many leaders to simultaneously play on the global stage and the local stage. We can also expect them to be deeply embedded in their own organization (as a new neighborhood) while also seeking to retain a viable family and community life. We also expect them to be national and world citizens, who are thoughtfully informed and ready to vote! The boundaries between work and home are inevitably blurred, leaving little time, in many instances, for leaders to keep their appointment with self. These postmodern conditions confront the leader with challenges that require both courage and insight.

The vertiginous rise of executive coaching in the last ten years – in its myriad variations – is a response to these challenges, both as a tool for self-development in the context of work and as a form of self-care. If leadership is situational, coaching is called upon to provide leadership development of the most customized and “just-in-time” kind.