Leadership is a heavily studied element of organizations. Every organization has leaders, after all, but what can and what do leaders actually do to achieve results? Can these results be replicated, or is individual charisma and various other sources of power and success ultimately simply a matter of great luck or randomness? In textbooks and in case studies, leadership is often represented as a challenge and as a set of skills to be mastered, based on various theoretical constructs (Theory X and Y when it comes to labor, for example). Apply the right strategies (empowering employees, juggling incentives properly) and leadership will lead to significant growth and profits. The entire field of leadership/management studies is based around the idea that leadership and its traits are definable and replicable. Further, leadership has emerged as somehow distinct from management in recent years. Value-laden claims like these are increasingly common.
[...] Chaos and confusion can result, but it is also worth noting that, as the Enron example given in the Introduction shows, that formal power does not bring with it any particular ethical or organizational advantage. Systems of informal power can serve as a check against formal power within an organization, and may also be a route toward eventually being granted formal power, or the formal empowerment of employees and managers across the organizational flowchart. The Individual Leader For all the talk about employee empowerment and flat organizations, the individual remains an important locus of power in the organization. [...]
[...] According to Hackman, in group situations, more resources are available in accomplishing the work of the group, and more interesting projects or activities could be undertaken than could be accomplished by an individual working alone. Also in group work, more minds can be applied to the work and a greater diversity of perspectives brought to bear on it, which can result in observations or insights that might escape the notice of any one individual. And, of course, group members can stimulate each other, cover for one another, and try out ideas on each other--all activities that can boost the quality of the final product. [...]
[...] Blackwell et al (1998) sum up research into charismatic leaders and find the following personal attributes common to them: Self-confidence in their own abilities A vision of how to make things or do things better Extraordinary communication skills; ability to articulate the vision High level of personal energy and enthusiasm; willingness to work very hard High level of commitment and conviction about the correctness of their ideas Act as role models to their followers (p. 13) However, charisma is not just a set of internal attributes, as the last bullet point above hints at, but is a series of practices as well. [...]
[...] 449) The issue of formal personal power within an organization can thus be obviated under the right organizational structure. On the other hand, personal power does remain important in many organizations, especially small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), organizations where TQM, "flat organizations" or other empowerment schemes are either unsuccessful or remain untried, or where there are limited flows of information. Power also comes informally. Most efforts at organizational change one of the most important reasons for the exercise of power fail. [...]
[...] But the fundamentals of leadership still remain illusive, simply because organizations and the marketplaces in which they interact are so complex. Indeed, markets function because nobody has access to perfect information with which to plan their rational actions. The remainder of this essay will examine the basics of leadership, concepts of power, formal authority and communication, and the leader as the individual. The Basics of Leadership Leadership has historically been seen as an attribute held by an individual. Only certain types of individuals could ever be effective leaders. [...]
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