The idea that leadership is about balancing or integrating concerns for task and people remained a central theme in qualitative work on leadership for the next several decades (examples include Argyris, 1962; Bennis, 1961; Likert, 1961; McGregor, 1960), but in later years researchers began to give greater attention to political and symbolic issues in the workplace (Dalton, 1959; Mintzberg, 1973; Kotter, 1985; Heifetz and Linsky, 2002).
Interest in the symbolic dimension of leadership exploded in the 1980s when students of organization discovered something long known to anthropologists—organizations had cultures, and those cultures mattered (Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Peters and Waterman, 1982; Schein, 1992). Symbolic elements such as charisma, vision, and transformational leadership became dominant themes in discussions of leadership, although Collins and Porras (1994) and Collins (2001) led a kind of counterrevolution, arguing that charisma was overrated (Collins and Porras, 1994). Instead, they argued, leaders of successful companies were disciplined and determined but humble (attributing success to the team, not to
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themselves) and even self-effacing. Heifetz and Linsky (2002), focusing particularly on leadership in the public sector, took a similar position, arguing that the essence of leadership is not vision but mobilizing followers to work on solving hard problems.
EVOLUTION OF THE IDEA OF LEADERSHIP Prior to the twentieth century, leadership was usually equated to high position, and the dominant theme in leadership studies was that leaders were born with special gifts that made them different from ordinary mortals. That view is dying, brought down by leadership research and by the complex challenges of leading in contemporary organizations. Our tour of more than 100 years of leadership history shows a gradual shift from a simpler view centered on the individual to a more complex view that takes account of individual, relationship, and context. Five propositions capture this evolution:
Leadership Is an Activity, Not a Position Leadership is distinct from authority and position, although authorities may be leaders. Weber (1947) and Barnard (1938) both linked authority to legitimacy. People consent and choose to obey authority only as long as they believe it is legitimate. Authority and leadership are both built on voluntary compliance. Leaders cannot lead without legitimacy, but many examples of authority fall outside the domain of leadership. As Gardner put it, “The meter maid has authority, but not necessarily leadership” (1989, p. 7).
Heifetz (1994) argues that authority often impedes leadership because in times of distress we expect those in authority to know and do more than they can and to solve our problems for us. This tempts leaders to overpromise and underdeliver, a recurring setup for failure and disappointment. After the 2016 election, many observers wondered how Donald Trump would be able to deliver on the many promises that he made during his election campaign.
The management literature has often equated leadership to whatever managers do with their subordinates, but this de!nes leadership too narrowly. Leaders need skill in managing relationships with all signi!cant stakeholders, including superiors, peers, and external constituents (Burns, 1978; Gardner, 1986; Kotter and Cohen, 2002; Heifetz and Linsky, 2002).
Leadership Is Different from Management You can be a leader without being a manager, and many managers could not “lead a squad of seven-year-olds to the ice-cream counter” (Gardner, 1989, p. 2). Bennis and
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Nanus (1985) suggest that “managers do things right, and leaders do the right thing” (p. 21); that is, managers focus on execution, leaders on purpose and values. Barnard (1938) argued that a moral dimension is central to leadership because it rests on “creating faith: faith in common understanding, in the probability of success, in the ultimate satisfaction of personal motives, in the integrity of objective authority, and in the superiority of common purpose” (Barnard, 1938, p. 239). A managerially oriented navy of!cer gave a ringing endorsement of his more leaderlike successor: “I go by the book; he writes the book.”
Kotter (1988) sees management as being primarily about structural nuts and bolts: planning, organizing, and controlling. He views leadership as a change-oriented process of visioning, networking, and building relationships. But Gardner argues against contrasting leadership and management too sharply, because leaders may “end up looking like a cross between Napoleon and the Pied Piper, and managers like unimaginative clods” (1989, p. 3). He suggests several dimensions for distinguishing leadership from management. Leaders think in the long term, look outside as well as inside, and in”uence constituents beyond their immediate formal jurisdiction. They emphasize vision and renewal and have the political skills to cope with the demands of multiple constituencies.
Leadership Is Multilateral, Not Unilateral Heroic images of leadership convey the notion of a one-way transaction: leaders show the way and followers tag along. But leaders are not independent actors; they both shape and are shaped by their constituents (Gardner, 1989; Simmel, 1950; Heifetz and Linsky, 2002). Leaders often promote a new initiative only after a large number of constituents favor it (Cleveland, 1985). Leaders’ actions generate responses that in turn affect the leaders’ capacity for taking further initiatives (Murphy, 1985). As Briand puts it, “A ‘leader’ who makes a decision and then attempts to ‘sell’ it is not wise and will likely not prove effective. The point is not that leaders should do less but that others can and should do more. Everyone must accept responsibility for the people’s well being, and everyone has a role to play in sustaining it” (1993, p. 39).
Leadership Is Distributed Rather Than Concentrated at the Top In times of crisis we expect leadership from people in high places, and we are grievously disappointed if they fail to provide it. But it is misleading to imagine that leadership comes only from people in prominent positions. Such a view leads us to ask too much of too few. It relegates the rest of us to a passive role and reinforces a tendency for those at the top to take on more responsibility than they can discharge (Oshry, 1995). The
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turbulent world of the twenty-!rst century pushes organizations to be fast, “exible, and decentralized, which requires leadership from many quarters (Barnes and Kriger, 1986; Kanter, 1983).
Leadership does not come automatically with high position, as Follett (1896) docu- mented long ago in a study of the U.S. Congress. Speakers of the House were always elected by their colleagues, but Follett found that some were able to leverage and expand the potential in the job, while others failed to lead. Conversely, it is possible and often necessary to lead without a position of formal authority. In 1991, the year that she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi was the most credible and respected leader in Myanmar, even though she held no of!ce and was under house arrest. Finally set free in 2010, she was elected to parliament in 2012, and her party won control of the Myanmar government in 2015.
Leadership Is Contextual and Situated Not in the Leader but in the Exchange between Leader and Constituents In story and myth, leaders are often lonely heroes and itinerant warriors, wed only to honor and a noble cause. Think of Batman, Ellen Ripley, Han Solo, James Bond, Joan of Arc, Rambo, or every character ever played by Clint Eastwood. But images of solitary, heroic leaders mislead by suggesting that leaders go it alone and by focusing the spotlight too much on individuals and too little on the stage where they play their parts. Leaders make things happen, but things also make leaders happen. The transformation in Rudy Giuliani’s image after 9/11 from has-been to hero in 24 hours is a perfect illustration. An unpopular, lame-duck New York mayor found himself center stage in an unplanned theater of horror and delivered the performance of his life. But Giuliani’s heroic image was “eeting. Time magazine named him person of the year for 2001, but he left the mayor’s of!ce at the end of the year and struggled to !nd another opportunity to demonstrate such visible and heroic leadership. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, but his early lead in the polls evaporated after a series of gaffes. He disappeared from the public eye until he bobbed up again in 2016 as a loyal surrogate promoting Donald Trump for president.