weLEAD Guest Editorial
For management writer Peter Drucker, leadership is having followers who "do the right thing". For political historian James MacGregor Burns, leadership is a "calling". For US president Abraham Lincoln, leadership is appealing to the "better angels of our nature". Leadership is also a matter of making a difference. It entails changing a failed strategy or revamping a languishing organisation. It requires us to make an active choice among many plausible alternatives, and it depends on bringing others along, on mobilising them to get the job done.
Leadership is at its best when the vision is strategic, the voice persuasive and the results tangible.
In the study of leadership, an exact definition is not essential; but guiding concepts are needed. The concepts should be general enough to apply to many situations, but specific enough to have tangible implications for what we do. Four frameworks are particularly valuable for company leadership. Their focus is on the individual capacities that have the greatest impact in the broadest circumstances.
The three-part story
Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John XXIII, Eleanor Roosevelt, Alfred Sloan and Nelson Mandela had an immense affect on society. Our experience in the present century will long reflect what they achieved in the past century. What is the common thread that explains their legacy?
For academic Howard Gardner, the answer lies in their consistent use of a three-part account. Whether with a few supporters or in front of a nation, great leaders consistently offer their vision of both what should be and how it should be achieved. Moreover, they always include a third element: all honour to the people who will build that future. Nelson Mandela, for instance, demonstrated this kind of leadership by declaring that the people of South Africa would create a multi-racial, democratic nation; they would do so through the peaceful transformation of South Africa; and both the black and white people of South Africa would get them there.
The teachable point of view
During nearly two decades at the helm of General Electric, Jack Welch has built one of the leading producers of everything from toaster ovens and jet engines to television programmes and financial services. He transformed a company worth Dollars 12bn in 1981 to one valued at Dollars 560bn today.
When asked to reveal the secret of his success, Welch says it is certainly not knowing which alloys to use in engines nor which shows to broadcast on Mondays. It is, rather, knowing how to pick the right leaders for making those products and then ensuring that the chosen ones master their growing responsibilities and changing markets. And for this, argues academic Noel Tichy, you must have a "teachable point of view", a message that defines what you want the company to achieve and how it will do so, and both must be conveyed in a form that others can readily learn and teach in turn.
The other intellect
Many managers will have known brilliant colleagues who had every answer but no respect. Cognitive intelligence is a prerequisite for most responsible positions, whether a Nasa flight director or an investment bank manager. What distinguishes those who move up to those positions is a capacity that writer Daniel Goleman has called emotional intelligence. It amounts to the following: if you are self-aware and self-regulating, empathetic and compassionate, and skilled at bringing out the best in people around you, you will hear what you need to know and inspire what they need to do.
The 70 percent solution
Some institutions are notorious for deplorable leadership; others are legendary for their excellence at the top. The US Marine Corps is renowned for its leadership abilities and offers insights into what is essential in business. The Marine Corps prepares is commanders to:
* seek a "70-per-cent" solution rather than a 100-per-cent consensus;
* avoid indecisiveness, a fatal flaw that is worse than no decision;
* clearly explain a decision's objectives and then allow subordinates to work out the details;
* tolerate and even encourage mistakes when they generate better performance next time;
* prepare everybody to lead, including those in the front line.
Business writer David Freedman and former McKinsey consultantsJon Katzenbach and Jason Santamaria argue that although companies march to different drummers, their leaders will do well to adapt the best of what the Marines have already discovered.
Without John F. Kennedy's persuasively articulated vision, human beings would not have walked on the moon in 1969. A powerful vision is a precondition for leading a company or country at any time. It is a persuasive picture of where you want to go, how you want to get there and why anybody should follow.
Herb Kelleher formed Southwest Airlines in 1971 to make flying affordable and the company profitable, and that vision has guided the company ever since. The airline still has some of the lowest ticket rates and highest profit rates in the business, reporting a net income of Dollars 474m in 1999 on revenue of Dollars 4.7bn.
Not only should chief executives articulate a strong vision, but they must do so in the face of new pressures: intensified competition and less time in which to achieve goals. Before AT&T's deregulation in 1984, for example, the chief executive was virtually assured of last year's earnings plus six per cent in the following year. The current chief executive, Michael Armstrong, is not even assured of his job next year. Professional investors and stock analysts are turning up the heat and the internet is requiring rapid-fire action. Wall Street and the City expect people at the top to understand where the market is going, pick a strategy for succeeding in it, and rally a reluctant workforce to master it. Michael Armstrong has to reduce costs and create innovation, but money managers and stock analysts also expect him to divine and shape his future better and faster than anybody else in business.
Vision and strategy are therefore essential, but they have been joined by new critical capabilities:
Leading out: As companies increasingly outsource services, use joint ventures and construct strategic alliances, they require managers who can lead out, not just down. In other words, the skill of sending work downward to subordinates is being supplemented by a talent for arranging work with partners. Such lateral leadership is essential for achieving results when you have no authority to guarantee them. And managers are requiring more of that every year: recent surveys of managers report annual outsourcing expenditures growing by 15 per cent or more.
Consider a senior US manager in a telecommunications company who was responsible for developing outsourcing contracts worth Dollars 1bn for information services. Company executives told him that cutting service costs and reducing management distraction were the purpose and left him to identify which services could be outsourced. He then had to contract the right outside partners to provide the services and convince sceptical internal managers that the deal would deliver what they wanted.
Lateral leadership requires strategic thinking to understand when and how to collaborate for competitive advantage; deal-making to secure the right arrangements with outside companies and ensure they provide quality service; partnership governing to oversee and develop the collaborative contract; and change management to spearhead new ways of doing business despite internal resistance.
Leading up: As companies have decentralised authority, they have put a premium on a manager's capacity to muster support from above as well as below. Managers must be able to lead their own bosses. If superiors lack data, managers should ensure they receives what's needed.
Consider a brokerage manager who could see the potential of the internet, but whose boss and board remained sceptical. He laboured to persuade them that online trading would come to dominate the trading market, even though it meant cannibalising their existing franchise and incurring momentary losses. He prevailed, and his company became one of the industry's largest.
Upward leadership depends upon followers who are ready to speak out, solve problems and fill the breach. But it must also be executed with subtlety and verve. If done in an unsubtle way, it may prove little more than a career-shortening move for those who try it. Yet the middle manager who fails to handle things firmly may never be noticed by the very senior managers who are most in need of help.
Moving fast: The widespread adoption of the web has increased the availability of information to buyers and sellers and reduced the costs of transactions between them. Whether building a new internet company or an online capacity in an established enterprise, acting decisively can be essential in quickly changing markets. So too is an ability to revamp the business model and redeploy assets to take advantage of competitive changes before others do.
Consider eBay, the world's largest online auction site. It was the first mover in its market, and when Amazon.com and others subsequently began competing in the auction market, chief executive Meg Whitman incorporated some of their features - such as password retrieval and fraud insurance - on eBay's website. She also added new features, such a way for buyers to look for items in their own city and to be notified when an item they desired became available for bid. EBay today has attracted 16m registered users and holds 90 per cent of the online auction market. Whitman's swift actions helped create a market valuation of Dollars 14bn.
How to build leadership
Some managers have a head start in acquiring leadership capacities, but everyone can improve. It is a learned capacity, albeit one that for many proves very difficult to master.
A first step for building leadership is to identify those whose leadership skills will need to be developed during the years ahead. Senior executives may decide it is only the managers of major operations who should be included, but they may conclude instead that it should be virtually everybody with responsibility. Middle managers will probably want to involve anyone reporting to them.
Managers can begin by engaging those closest to them in a leadership debate, and asking them to do the same with their associates. They can discuss their moments of both success and setback; ask them to synthesise lessons from their own leadership experiences; provide them with personal coaching and individual mentoring; and change the business culture so they can make decisions without acute fear of failure.
An explicit leadership development programme may also help. Abbott Laboratories, a Dollars 13bn revenue US healthcare manufacturer with 57,000 employees, brings groups of 35 high-performing, high-potential directors and vice presidents together for three weeks of leadership development over nine months. Participants examine the leader's role and responsibilities at Abbott, they consider alternative leadership approaches and they receive feedback on their own leadership style and impact.
DuPont, with revenue of Dollars 27bn and 94,000 employees, has created its own "knowledge intensity university", a set of programmes for training managers in how to identify expansion strategies, create a culture of urgency and allocate resources to encourage rapid growth.
One programme for top executives of product divisions and global businesses is designed to help them identify the best methods for bolstering business. A second programme for top management teams helps them specify, test and implement the best "growth engines" for business. Both programmes include week-long learning events with an intensive focus on strategic alliances, e-commerce and change leadership.
Ford Motor Company has annual sales of Dollars 162bn and employs 365,000 people. To accelerate the formation of its future leaders, it runs a "new business leader" programme for 2,000 managers every year. Participant teams identify ideas that could help transform the company's way of doing business, design a course of action for implementing the best proposals and develop a "teachable point of view" for advocating them.
One of the most effective ways of instilling leadership in such programmes is to examine what other leaders have done in times of crisis. By looking at others' experiences, managers can better anticipate what they should do when faced with leadership challenges. It teaches strategic thinking and how to act decisively.
It can be particularly powerful to walk historic battlefields or recall critical decisions. Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, for example, describes how two climbing groups, simultaneously nearing the summit of Everest, were hit by a violent storm. It is useful to ask what went right - and why so many things went so terribly wrong - for the leaders of the two teams as they desperately sought safety.
Eight climbers (including both team leaders) never found shelter. In asking how their decisions might have gone differently, how their leadership mattered, and what we might do to reach our own summits more safely, we can deepen our own commitment to preparing ahead and instilling responsibility for when it is really needed.
The British explorer Ernest Shackleton's journey to the Antarctic presents another useful illustration of leadership in a crisis. Shackleton set out in December 1914 with a team of 28. His ship became trapped in ice and although it appeared that everyone was doomed, Shackleton's exceptional perseverance, ingenuity and leadership led them all to be rescued 21 months later. In Leading at the Edge, Dennis Perkins suggests several enduring lessons to be taken from Shackleton's saga:
* Keep sight of the ultimate goal but focus on interim objectives. Shackleton was driven by the safety and survival of his men. When morale plummeted at one point, Shackleton organised a trek to cross 314 miles of ice floe to an old food cache. The trek failed, but the collective endeavour restored the crew's life-sustaining spirits.
* Engender optimism. As a way of maintaining morale, Shackleton openly planned the team's next expedition - to Alaska.
* Minimise your perquisites. Ten of the 28 castaways were forced to use inadequate sleeping bags after the ship sank. Shackleton assigned these bags by lottery, except for one that he assigned to himself.
* Risk nothing needlessly, bet everything when essential. When Shackleton's marooned crew finally reached an inhospitable island at the edge of the Antarctic, they stood on land for the first time in 497 days. Yet the island offered no respite. The nearest help, South Georgia Island, still lay 800 miles across one of the most daunting oceans in the world. With few navigational aids, Shackleton set out with five others in a 22-foot craft. Eighteen days later, in one of the greatest feats of steerage and survival ever, he landed their tiny boat on South Georgia. L
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About the author:
Michael Useem is professor of management and director of the Center for Leadership and Change at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
He is the recipient of the Helen Kardon Moss Anvil Award for Teaching Excellence in the Graduate Division, 1992; Graduate Division Award for excellence in teaching, 1992-95, 1998; and the Miller-Sherrerd MBA Core Teaching Award, 1993-99. He has served as consulting editor for Leadership Quarterly, 1992-98; corresponding editor for Theory and Society from 1981 to the present; on the advisory board of Liberal Education (Journal of the Association of American Universities and Colleges) from 1990 to 1998; and on the editorial Board, IRQ: A Quarterly Journal of Investor Relations and Corporate Value, 1997-present.
Professor Useem also serves as a consultant for companies such as Astra/Merck; Bell Atlantic Corporation; CARE; National Policy Association; National Research Council; United Nations; World Education, and many other organizations. His research areas include organizations and management; leadership and governance; corporate change and restructuring; institutional investors; company social and political programs; education and employment; and the organization of development programs. Current projects include work on company leadership in a globalizing equity market; leading organizational change and restructuring; and the lessons of leadership during periods of challenge, stress, and uncertainty.
Representative publications include "The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All," "Investor Capitalism: How Money Managers are Changing the Face of Corporate America," and "Executive Defense: Shareholder Power and Corporate Reorganization."
* Freedman, D.H. (2000) Corps Business, New York: HarperBusiness.
* Gardner, H. (1995) Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, New York: Basic Books.
* Goleman, D.P. (1997) Emotional Intelligence, New York: Bantam.
* Gardner, J. (1993) On Leadership, New York: Free Press.
* Katzenbach, J.R. and Santamaria, J.A. (1999) "Firing Up the Front Line", Harvard Business Review, May-June.
* Krakauer, J. (1997) Into Thin Air, New York: Villard/Random House.
* Perkins, D.N.T., with Holtman, M.P., Kessler, P.R. and McCarty, C. (2000) Leading at the Edge, New York: American Management Association.
* Tichy, N.M. (1997) The Leadership Engine, New York: HarperBusiness.
* Useem, M. (1998) The Leadership Moment, New York: Times Books/Random House.
Article Copyright: The Financial Times Limited
Reprinted by permission of the Financial Times
Permission received by weLEAD Incorporated
For management writer Peter Drucker, leadership is having followers who "do the right thing". For political historian James MacGregor Burns, leadership is a "calling". For US president Abraham Lincoln, leadership is appealing to the "better angels of our nature". Leadership is also a matter of making a difference. It entails changing a failed strategy or revamping a languishing organisation. ItMichael Useem Articles
Our colleges and universities administer an “anti-leadership vaccine,” according to John Gardner (Greenleaf, 1969). Robert Greenleaf, the father of servant leadership, agrees and adds that we have the misfortune to live in the age of the anti-leader. We’ve done a good job of educating cynics, critics and experts—the technical specialist who advises the leader or the intellectual who stands off and criticizes the leader, but no one wants to educate the leader himself (Greenleaf, 1969). And yet the leadership crisis looms. “We give every appearance of sleep-walking through a dangerous passage of history,” writes Gardner (1990); “we see the life-threatening problems, but we do not react. We are anxious but immobilized.”
With an increasing awareness of that leadership crisis, more voices are calling for universities to become involved. The Kellogg Foundation’s “Leadership reconsidered: Engaging higher education in social change” (2000) declares that higher education has the potential to produce future generations of transformative leaders who can help find solutions to our most vexing social problems. With the help of Synovus, and other businesses following their lead, Columbus State University is accepting the challenge through a commitment to develop servant leaders—leaders committed to the ethical use of power and authority who want to help others grow.
The CSU Servant Leadership Program, now in its third year, seeks to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and spirit of servant leaders through both academic and experiential learning. Stipends, which are provided mainly by Synovus, are available for a limited number of entering freshmen. In return for the stipend, students participate in an academic seminar for one-semester-hour of elective credit each semester, engage in community service through non-profit agencies, and participate in mentoring as both a mentor to an at-risk child and as a mentee. Personal development assessments, conferences, retreats, and social events are also integral parts of the program. The stipends are renewable for a total of eight semesters. The program now includes 12 juniors, 13 sophomores, and 15 freshmen.
High school seniors who have demonstrated potential in the areas of service, leadership, academics, and commitment to the development of self and others are recruited during the Fall each year. Interested students submit applications by January 31, and the selection process takes place during February and March. Each new year begins with an Orientation Retreat on the Friday before Fall Semester classes begin. Evaluation of the program continues on an on-going, continuous, cyclical basis with year-end evaluative reports completed during May and June each year. Results, collected both quantitatively and qualitatively, suggest that the program is a quadruple-win benefiting the university, the community, collaborating businesses, and the students.
From the university’s perspective, good students are being attracted to the program and retention rates are high. No strict standard exists for SAT minimum scores, and selected students’ scores have ranged from the 900’s-1300’s. The program does require that students maintain an overall B average, and only three have been lost for academic reasons. About half of the students are on the Dean’s List each semester, and the overall GPA is about 3.5 each semester. Servant leadership students are becoming very active on campus and now fill about half of the new positions in student government.
Our servant leadership students are also making a positive difference in the community as they complete 6-8 hours per week of community service through 24 different non-profit agencies. They give thousands of hours of service each year, and agency directors give them high praise. Each student mentors a young child in the public school system who is deemed to be “at-risk” by teachers. “Karen absolutely made the difference for LeAnn; she turned her around,” a teacher recently declared in describing the value of the mentoring relationship. “LeAnn became a child who believed she could read, and she made amazing progress.” The effect on the college students is perhaps even greater than on the little children. “This experience opened my eyes in a way that nothing else could,” wrote one servant leadership student. “Thank you for making my freshman year the greatest year of my life,” wrote another. The program participants are learning that it truly is in giving that we receive.
The program is funded entirely through local means. After the final report was presented from a task force commissioned to explore the development of a formal leadership program in 1998, the CSU administration secured funding through a local foundation. At the same time, collaboration was established with the Pastoral Institute, a local counseling and educational center. Through the Business Resource Center and The Center for Servant Leadership, which are divisions of the Pastoral Institute, businesses contribute stipend money for students involved in the program. Synovus has been the principal supporter.
Not only does Synovus give generously for stipends, this locally-founded company, listed among the best places to work in America, supplies mentors for the CSU students. Synovus is the holding company for Total System Services, one of the largest credit card processing centers in the world, and for Columbus Bank and Trust Company, a locally founded bank. Executives from the Synovus family of businesses are matched with servant leadership students in mentoring relationships for several reasons. First, the arrangement puts the CSU student, who mentors at-risk children, in the uniquely important position of serving as a bridge between those in the mainstream of the social order and those in danger of being left out of society. The relationship also helps our college students to access wise advice and practical help from an adult who is seen as an exemplary servant leader, and, in turn, Synovus benefits by being able to introduce our fine students to the career possibilities available with their companies. Ultimately, we all benefit, say executives at Synovus, as young people who subscribe to the servant leadership philosophy and who have been educated in servant leadership principles, skills, and attitudes are attracted to Columbus and stay here to make a better quality of life for everyone.
The world needs young people who want to learn to serve instead of rule, who will not gain advantage for themselves by setting individuals or groups against one another, who will not use political patronage to further their own ambitions nor vindictive measures against those who oppose them, who will not exploit the public trust or the public treasury for their own gain, who want to see institutions called back to their primary mission of service and groups move toward goals that are in the best interest of the whole. It is this need that the Columbus State University Servant Leadership Program addresses. Through hands-on experience in needy areas, and through learning about themselves and their community and about leadership research and theory, university students are developing responsibility for their community, a sense of engagement, and the knowledge that service is a mutually beneficial thing. We are learning together to serve as we lead and to lead as we serve.
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Dr. Mary Sue Polleys holds a B.A. in Speech and Education from Mercer University, an M.A. in Speech Communication from Auburn, and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Auburn. Having taught in corporate settings and public and private schools, she has also served for almost nine years as Chair of the Muscogee County School Board, which oversees a public school district of 32,000 students and 5,000 employees. She serves on the faculty of Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia, as Director of the Servant Leadership Program.
Technical assistance from Ms. Angela Johnson, Columbus State University
Astin, A. W. & Astin, H. S. (2000). Leadership reconsidered: Engaging higher education in social change. Report for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, MI.
Gardner, J. (1990). On leadership. New York: Free Press.
Greenleaf, Robert K. (1969). The crisis of leadership. In Don M. Frick & Larry C. Spears (Eds.), On becoming a servant leader. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
College Students as Emerging Servant Leaders: A Collaboration between Columbus State University, Synovus, and Others
Our colleges and universities administer an “anti-leadership vaccine,” according to John Gardner (Greenleaf, 1969). Robert Greenleaf, the father of servant leadership, agrees and adds that we have the misfortune to live in the age of the anti-leader. We’ve done a good job of educating cynics, critics and experts—the technical specialist who advises the leader or the intellectual whoMary Sue Polleys, Ph.D. Articles
Peter Senge, MIT professor and author of The Fifth Discipline, said:
“No one in the past 30 years has had a more profound impact on thinking about leadership than Robert Greenleaf.”
Robert Greenleaf, author of the classic series of essays on the theme “the servant as leader,” was a powerful advocate of mentoring. In The Power of Servant Leadership, edited by Larry Spears, Robert Greenleaf proposed that there are psychic rewards to be gained by oldsters who take the time and trouble to mentor the young to become servant-leaders.
He stated, “What could bring more satisfaction to oldsters than helping some of the young to become servant-leaders?” (page 54)
As an oldster himself at the time of his writing, he saw the need for a more caring society, but had little confidence that many of the leaders of his generation would actually meet the challenge. He was definitely not persuaded that much progress toward a caring society would “be initiated by those who are now established as leaders.” He stated that he did “not expect much” from his contemporaries. (page 53)
Robert Greenleaf saw that once an individual rose to a position of power and influence with a nonservant mindset, it would probably take a metanoia (a profound transformation or conversion) to change such a leader into a true servant-leader. He stated:
“For the older ones among us who are ‘in charge,’ nothing short of a ‘peak’ experience, like religious conversion…seems to have much chance of converting a confirmed nonservant into an affirmative servant.” (page 23)
Although many influential leaders consider themselves effective mentors and servant-leaders, the fruits often do not bear this out. Often the person who is energized and inspired to be an able mentor of the young is not a person of great formal power and influence. In fact, a very successful mentor is likely to be one who has not risen to the top within his or her organization, but has remained in a lower level position in order to have greater access to young people.
Superiors may consider these effective mentors as oddballs. This is because such persons may not want to conform to the organization’s culture and rise to a position of prominence. Many organizational cultures place little value on truly growing people and helping young people internalize a lifestyle of service. You can see this in academia, where senior faculty may pay lip service to mentoring junior faculty and students, but in reality there is a spirit of competition and a “scarcity mentality” driven by self-interest. Institutional rewards often go to those most driven by such self-interest, rather than recognizing and rewarding those who are highly effective mentors.
Able mentors often prefer to spend their time and energy preparing and inspiring the next generation to become effective mentors and servant-leaders. They see their mentees as those who will become the builders of more serving institutions in the future. These visionary mentors are often very talented at growing people. They are driven by a vision of the future. They believe that there is tremendous psychic reward in giving themselves to make a difference in the lives of others.
Robert Greenleaf provided this striking example in an address he made to a gathering of university students: (page 102– The Power of Servant Leadership)
“Thomas Jefferson had such a mentor in George Wythe, the Williamsburg lawyer under whom Jefferson apprenticed. Without the influence of George Wythe, there might not have been a Jefferson to write The Declaration of Independence or draft the statutes in Virginia that shaped the Constitution. He might have settled for the role of eccentric Virginia scholar. Find such a mentor if you can.”
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About the author:
Dr. Howard Baker is Director of Education for INSPIRE! Learning Systems. He holds a B.S. in Management from Samford University, a Master of Accounting (MAcc) from the University of Southern California and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington. He has been a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) since 1989. He is an adjunct professor in both Business Administration and Public Administration at the University of Texas at Tyler. Dr. Baker is a lifetime charter member of weLEAD and the founding editor of the weLEADInLearning web site’s E-Journal of Organizational Learning and Leadership located atwww.weleadinlearning.org. His weLEAD email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Senge, MIT professor and author of The Fifth Discipline, said: “No one in the past 30 years has had a more profound impact on thinking about leadership than Robert Greenleaf.” Robert Greenleaf, author of the classic series of essays on the theme “the servant as leader,” was a powerful advocate of mentoring. In The Power of Servant LeadBy Dr. Howard Baker Articles Other
One of the glaring flaws in the Oliver Stone movie, Alexander, was the omission of any reference to young Alexander and the Gordian Knot. For those not familiar with this classical episode in the legend of Alexander the Great, there existed in ancient Greece an immense tangle of tightly bound cord known as the Gordian Knot. The legend of the knot prophesized that whoever could unloosen the knot would unite Greece and rule all of Asia. Learning of the prophecy, young Alexander, the Macedonian prince, came to the site, approached the knot, unsheathed his sword and proceeded to hack it open.
(For a fuller description of the tale of Alexander and the Gordian Knot, go to:
By this act Alexander dramatically demonstrated a leadership trait that is principle-based and powerful. An underlying trait of iconoclastic leadership is that leaders not only think out of the box, but also act out of the box. They are liberated from the constraints of the normative paradigms of their time. Thus liberated, they are free to resolve problems that would remain unresolved by anyone residing within the prevailing paradigms of their culture, world-view, ideology, or dogma. The effects of the iconoclast tend to shock and upset, but their impact on moving historical process forward is consistent and unmistakable.
Max Weber, a seminal figure in modern sociology who also wrote authoritatively on history and economics, employed the concept of “pure” or “ideal” types to compare and contrast institutional types and behavioral traits. One can consider the iconoclastic leader as a Weberian “pure type” in dialectic opposition to the apologist, or caretaker, whose focus is on justifying the status quo. Pure iconoclasts, in fact, rarely become leaders. They are, by their nature, at war with the prevailing powers that be, and thus generally are dismissed as crackpots at best and dangerous subversives (which they are) at worst. Their routes to leadership are usually confined to a combination of charisma and inheritance of status (as with Alexander), or charisma coinciding with a catastrophic crisis of the prevailing paradigm.
It is said that the Austrians are a clever people for they have convinced the world that Hitler was German and that Beethoven was Austrian. This observation can be expanded to iconoclastic leaders in general. They enter history from the outside; from the margins of the dominant culture. Consider that Alexander was a Macedonian and not a Greek, that Genghis Khan was a Mongol and not Chinese, that Napoleon was Corsican and not French (he didn’t even speak French until age twelve), and that Stalin was a Georgian and not Russian. Thinking and acting outside the box is expedited when one’s origins are also outside the box.
What might also be clear from the aforementioned list is that iconoclastic leaders aren’t “nice” people. They impose transformation by sheer power of will. They are remembered more for their wars than for their legacies as change agents. They are subject to the tragic dynamic expressed in the adage that “revolutions eat their own children.” This might lead one to write off the iconoclast as a dangerous and unstable leadership type, until one considers that our own founding fathers were iconoclasts. If they were only out to free America from British rule they would have rebelled and our fight with the British would have been known merely as a war for independence. Ours was truly an American Revolution, spearheaded by the most iconoclastic of the revolutionaries, Thomas Paine (an immigrant from Scotland and militantly atheist). His early and vociferous advocacy of a vision of a new nation was articulated in Common Sense and other writings that shifted the entire debate over the colonies’ status from petition and protest, to independence and revolution. It was then left to other more moderate iconoclasts, like Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison and Jay to complete the dialectical process and synthesize a new nation. The firebrand Thomas Paine was eventually marginalized by the nation-builders, and would later turn up in France to help drive their revolution, nearly losing his life to the guillotine in the process.
While the iconoclastic leader is toxic to the prevailing organizational or social order, an iconoclastic strain in one’s temperament portfolio can make for an effective change agent. To invoke a Darwinian metaphor, they are the mutant genes that occasionally produce new and more viable species. The iconoclast is better at envisioning and commanding than in consolidating and governing. Thus the dialectical tension persists between the revolutionary iconoclast, and the caretaker bureaucrat (bureaucracy being the “routinization of charisma” according to Weber). Like Moses, the iconoclast can take a people to the Promised Land, but they can’t seem to enter it themselves.
About the author:
Dr. Timothy Dolan is the former Director of the Master in Management Program at Southern Oregon University; the first integrated interdisciplinary graduate management program offered by a regional institution of higher learning in the nation. He received both his MA and Ph.D. in Political Science (International Relations Methodology and Public Policy/Futures Studies) from the University of Hawaii. His BA is from San Diego State University in Political Science. Dr. Dolan is also a certified facilitator for the FranklinCovey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People seminar. He is now an entrepreneur developing a line of exoskeletalwear that he hopes to license to a major sports apparel manufacturer.
*Image courtesy of Grant Cockrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One of the glaring flaws in the Oliver Stone movie, Alexander, was the omission of any reference to young Alexander and the Gordian Knot. For those not familiar with this classical episode in the legend of Alexander the Great, there existed in ancient Greece an immense tangle of tightly bound cord known as the Gordian Knot. The legend of the knot prophesized that whoever could unloosen the knotDr. Timothy Dolan Articles
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