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Leadership and personal power in organizations

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The basics of leadership.
  3. Power and empowerment.
  4. The individual leader.
  5. Conclusion.

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. [...]

[...] Brooks, D. (2005) "The Holy Capitalists." The New York Times 15 December: A35. Carey, B. (2006) "Study Links Punishment To an Ability To Profit." New York Times 7 April: A22. Collins, J. C. & Porras, J. I. (1995) "Building a visionary company." California Management Review 37(2):80-100. Fairholm, M. R. (2001) " [...]

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