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Leadership, Management, and Decision Making
The focal point of the discussion this week will be the article by Isaacson on Steve Jobs. After reading the assigned chapter in Bateman and Snell, read the assigned articles in this order: Isaacson, Heifetz, and then Keohane.
Answer the following questions, and clearly label your answer to each question.
Question #1 -- Based on the styles and approaches to leadership discussed in Bateman and Snell, how would you categorize Steve Jobs as a leader? Don’t try to use all of the categories, but select a model or set of categories that seem useful to you, and apply that to Jobs as described by Isaacson. Tell why. This is the descriptive part of the post.
Question #2 -- Based on your reading of Heifetz and Keohane, briefly indicate what you think they would say about Jobs as a leader. Would they think he is a good model or not? Why? This is the analytic part of the post.
The study of leadership is a complex and sometimes frustrating enterprise. It is complex because our conceptual understanding has not been fully developed despite years of study by many scholars. For all of organized human history, leadership has been recognized as important. As long as historians have been writing the chronicle of human endeavors, leaders have been identified and given credit (or blame) for organized success or failure.
For close to a century, social science scholars have developed theories and conceptual frameworks in an attempt to better understand leaders and leadership. Early efforts focused on matching certain personal traits or characteristics with successful leadership. As time went on, it became apparent that leaders came in all sizes, shapes, and with varying traits. Certain traits (intelligence, articulateness, high energy, etc.) tended to be associated with successful leaders. Upon more detailed study, they were seen as necessary but not sufficient factors.
The next step was to focus on the actual behavior of leaders. This led to an identification of task performance and group maintenance behaviors. Task performance behaviors are associated with a focus on the performance of critical tasks within the organization. On the other hand, group maintenance behaviors are those actions the leader takes to maintain harmony in the work group. The Leadership Grid Figure in Management: Leading & Collaborating in a Competitive World shows the different styles of leadership depending on whether a leader behavior emphasizes task performance or group maintenance, or seeks a balance between the two.
As we stressed a few weeks ago, decision making is critically important to understanding management and organizations. The way leaders approach making decisions is also a key behavioral attribute in this conceptual framework. The extent of participation sought in decision making can lead leaders to be categorized as autocratic or democratic leaders.
Finally, another set of scholars have concluded that universal leadership traits or behaviors do not exist. Their contingency approach stresses the importance of understanding the situation and adjusting leadership style to the situation. Tannenbaum and Schmidt, Vroom, and House have all developed models of situational leadership. Their approaches are explained in more detail in the readings. In each of these approaches a variety of factors (such as group cohesion, support for the leader, and the nature of the external environment) are weighed by the leader before deciding on the style of leadership that is the best fit for the situation.
Recently, scholars have also begun to focus on the study of transformational leaders, those who successfully change and revitalize an organization.
With all these different and sometimes conflicting theories and conceptual frameworks, how should a manager approach trying to understand about leadership. John Kotter draws some distinctions between management and leadership. He says managers promote stability and leaders stimulate change.
I began this piece by saying that the study of leadership is complex because there are so many competing conceptual frameworks. In a course on organization behavior or on leadership, students study in depth the various theoretical frameworks. What we are doing in this week is using some basic ideas of leadership to help us integrate the various topics we have taken up in recent weeks.