Leadership and the Value of Fair Play

Jan 22

One key value that affects the effectiveness of leadership is fair play. Expectations, implied or expressed, are the basis of whether actions are seen as exhibiting fair play. Teamwork requires that team members trust that their expectations will be met. The expectation of fair play derives from human attitudes toward reciprocity and equity. A great historical account that illustrates this important value in a leader is when Abraham Lincoln made an agreement with Henry E. Dummer, John Hardin and Edward D. Baker that they would rotate the nomination every two years and would help each other win the election. After Mr. Lincoln had helped others win their elections, it was his turn. In the face of some resistance he wrote to them, reminding them of their agreement and citing that “turn about is fair play”. Reckless Self-Interest The political environment today is rife with excess and unfair play. There seems to be an endless stream of kickbacks, misuse of funds, inappropriate relationships and many other types of behavior that does not meet expectations. A notable, although not isolated, example of this behavior is seen in the actions of Chris Christie’s staff in recent months. Political retribution, manipulation and coercion all demonstrate a reckless self-interest on the part of a leader. Consequences of this type of behavior are almost universally negative in the long term. Alliances are short lived, trust is absent making skepticism high and outcomes are rarely in the best interests of the people who are represented. Decreased Influence A lack of fair play in leadership will eventually result is a diminished capacity to influence others and effect real change. Leaders who brush aside fairness and equity, who fail to reciprocate when expected, will find that their personal and positional power decrease over time. Unfortunately, many leaders learn this disappointing outcome when the stakes are highest, in times of...

Read More

Functions of Management and Leadership

Jan 11

The primary textbook in my Leadership course this semester is Leadership, Theory and Practice by Peter G. Northhouse. The book is broad in scope and aims to synthesize the last century of academic effort to define Leadership. Each chapter is packed with references to related and supplementary material. The introductory chapter included a figure that is packed with insight, at least for me. It speaks to the differences between the role of leader and manager. The idea that management seeks order and consistency while leadership drives for change and movement sets important expectations. There have been times in the past when I hired someone without a clear expectation of whether I wanted order or change. I may even have expected both at the same time. There are also work situations in which expectations on my performance were not clearly identified. I lean toward change and movement. I find it difficult to engage it tasks designed primarily to produce order and...

Read More

Leadership Erosion

Jan 11

Values represent those principles and desires to which individuals ascribe meaning and purpose. In the extreme, values guide individuals in life and death situations. In routine daily activities, values inform decisions that affect quality of life, happiness and even personal liberty. Values guide the assessment of outcomes and in many cases compose an image of an ideal society. Peaceful, harmonious society is most often a reflection of common shared values. Contentious societies result when there is discord related to core social values. Alignment of values and its effect on communities is central to a discussion of leadership. The effectiveness and power of a leader is proportional to both alignment of and individual commitment to common values. Where there is alignment and commitment, leaders can effect transformational changes in a society. Where alignment and commitment are absent, leaders will struggle to establish consensus and unity. Leaders and followers must share common values in order for a leader to be effective in his position. Erosion of Leadership As consensus regarding core social values erodes, so does the ability of leaders to emerge and create unity. As value segmentation increases, the scope of a leader’s influence diminishes. This erosion of leadership with its inherent dangers was a principle concern to the founders of America. In his farewell address, George Washington cautioned that segmentation of this nature could be used to undermine the power of the people. “However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” There is evidence of this having occurred in the persistent gridlock of American government today. Segmentation of common values is indicated by the growing number of political parties which represent increasingly diverse constituents. When the influence of powerful lobbying groups is factored in, the overall effect of leadership erosion is significant. When no single leader or value base can rally a majority opinion, there can be no society wide movement or change....

Read More

Framing Organizations

Aug 26

Having just finished the course for Organizational Dynamics, I wanted to summarize my main take away from the course. The material covered leadership, strength assessment and four frames through which organizations can be viewed. By far the most valuable insight for me came from exploring the four frames, which are: Structural Political Symbolic Human Resources Structural The structural frame focuses on the hierarchical structure of an organization. Who reports to who, titles, roles, responsibilities. The primary argument from this frame’s perspective is that organizational issues can be solve by changing the structure of the organization. Cases in which this can work include organizations which have well defined roles based on commodity skills, where workers with those skills are widely available. Some examples might include retail or manufacturing. Political The political frame views organizations as power structures where influence is gained by forming coalitions and leverage. The primary argument from this frame’s perspective is that success in an organization depends on one’s ability to navigate the complexity of political relationships and gain power and influence to drive key decisions. Organizations in which this can work include industries where there may be multiple successful solutions to a given problem or where the value of an outcome depends on human evaluation. Some examples might include a law practice or an advertising agency. Symbolic The symbolic frame views an organization from the perspective of symbols that emotionally drive and motivate the workforce. These can come in the form of stories, myths and other objects of significance that carry special meaning. Motivation and alignment with company objectives can be powerful and effective, often compensating for deficiencies in structure. This can be especially effective in organizations that have an emotional component, such as non-profits. Human Resources The human resources frame focuses on the human needs of the workers within the organization. These may include family, entertainment, acceptance and achievement. From the perspective of this frame, an organization is most likely to be successful when the needs of its workers are met. Conversely, workers whose needs are met are more fully available to address the needs of the organization. Some examples of this type of focus include companies that provide meals, transportation and access to gym...

Read More

Throw Away the APA

Jul 27

Communication is a major emphasis of many MBA programs, at least as a matter of rhetoric. Business leaders should be skillful, effective communicators. It’s not a hard case to make, and I agree that a leader who can’t communicate his vision will not be very effective. What I can’t understand is the almost singular focus many universities have on “writing styles”, such as APA, MLA, etc. Benefit of Standardized Communication Standardized communication approaches can bring benefit. For example, when reviewing hundreds of papers to see if they may contain details related to some research, it’s helpful to have abstracts. In the process of diving deeper into published research it’s helpful to know that sources are located in the bibliography. It’s even helpful to have the same font, spacing and formatting so that transitioning from one paper to another is easier on the eyes. From a grading perspective, I can also see how a standardized format can make life easier for a professor. But that’s not really the point of a graduate degree, at least not as I see it. Leadership is about Creation Leadership should be about creation, not emulation. When my university sends me out into the world as a newly minted, card carrying business leader, capable of tackling any problem, what will the world expect of me? I’m pretty sure when I present a solution to a pressing business problem, no one will complain that it’s not in APA format. In fact, I’ve found professionally that when I publish solutions in a standard format, such as IEEE for electrical engineering, it actually works against me. I’ve observed that my peers were turned off by the format, since it reminded them of school and being forced to dig through hundreds of papers full of dry commentary on research all to often void of novelty. What worked then? I have found that creating a website for internal or group communication among peers is more accessible, shared more frequently, more easily found by my team and benefits more people outside my immediate organization as search engines direct traffic there. Google and Bing are the New Standard Above I mentioned some of the perceived benefits of standardized communication. Before search and...

Read More