The Led 'n the Leader

An origination is the outcome of the desire of a group of co-activists of a given calling to organize their group activity effectively and profitably. Since an organization needs a hierarchy to function and indeed to exist, the group seeks to create one for itself. The hierarchy, then, comes into being by the process of election, selection, and / or both for the ostensible purpose of promoting the interests of the group to which it owes its existence.

Human nature being what it is, each member of the group, though working for the group interests at large, seeks to promote or at least protect his individual interests, within the group, as he perceives them. It is this compulsion that influences the nature and quality of the hierarchy. As can be expected in such a background, the leadership naturally passes on to those individuals who generally seem to represent the common interests of the group. This is essentially a status-quo approach to leadership selection, which severely restricts the elevation of capable and competent people to leadership positions. Generally, the group dynamics favor either mediocre people with a pliable image, or those with a commitment for self-promotion.

Fortunately, however, in those groups where the group interests take precedence over individual interests, made possible by the collective enlightenment or a shared ideology of the group members at large, capable, and competent leadership emerges. This can be described as the professional approach to the leadership formation. Here the accent of the leadership commitment will be on the general group promotion as opposed to the narrow individual interests. Thus professionalism is the capacity of the members of a group to subordinate their individual interests to the group objectives, though as a means to achieving the former.

The study of the subject of leadership is as old as civilization itself and the philosophers of yore, as well as modern management analysts have tried to analyze and bracket the attributes, characteristics and dynamics that go with leadership in men. Similarly leadership styles variously described as autocratic, benevolent and otherwise have been analyzed and the situational requirements for their practical application identified.

It is pertinent to ask as to why then most men, otherwise competent and qualified, who occupy leadership positions, fail to provide effective leadership. To understand this phenomenon one should appreciate that the effectiveness of a leader depends as much on his own leadership abilities as on the cumulative influence of the various factors that make up the organizational environment in which he operates. Understanding and analyzing these secondary causes that determine the functional effectiveness of a leader can only bring totality to the analysis and appreciation of leadership. What then are they?

National Characteristics

Peoples of various nations have distinctive characteristics, which, among other things, influence their approach and outlook to the organized way of working. The outstanding revival of Japan and Germany from the ravages of the Second World War is more due to the collective organized will of their people than due to any outstanding leadership contribution. In this context it is pertinent to quote from the Nazi intellectual Joseph Goebbels’ last testament to his people, written before his decision to give up his life in solidarity with his Fuehrer at the time of the disintegration of the Third Reich:

“In doing this, I believe that I am doing the best service I can to the future of the German people. In the hard times to come, examples will be more important than men. Men will always be found to lead the nation forward; but a reconstruction of our national life would not be possible unless developed on the basis of clear and obvious examples.”

Thus the national ethos developed over a period of time by the examples set by the leaders and the led alike has a definitive bearing on the functioning of the leadership. Likewise, the seemingly ineffective leadership in a given situation may be due to the lack of a perceivable national or organizational ethos as the case may be.

In one of its reports on the economies of the Third World countries, the World Bank had inferred that the poor state of their economy is due to the lack of managerial skills. To this it can be added that the poor sense of organizational commitment of the people in these countries has much to do with the tardy economic progress.

Organizational Nature

Organizations vary in their nature and scope and with them the content and extent of leadership. Broadly, organizations can be categorized as social, political and business or industry. Structurally, the social organizations are less cohesive and the leadership has to possess extraordinary commitment to have any impact for generally, service being the only motive of these organizations, personal scarifies are implicit with their leadership positions.

Ideology, power or the pursuit of it provide cohesiveness and bondage to political associations and this unambiguity is at once the strength and the weakness of their leadership. The success or even the survival of the leadership lies in its ability to indoctrinate the organization with the professed ideology on the one hand and by actually achieving or seeming to achieve political power for it on the other.

However, the scope of the present analysis primarily confines itself to the business and industrial organizations’ leadership possibilities. In a country like India, where the concept of mixed economy is pursued as a State policy, these organizations can be categorized as private and public. Though the organizational aspects affecting their leadership are the same, the functional features differ vastly. Private organizations have a head start in that the commitment for obtaining a return on investment is the main motivating factor of the leadership. The leadership is generally self evolved as it is the major investors or the leading promoters who come to occupy these positions. And this assures a continuity of commitment for performance, made possible by the personal stakes the investment brings in its wake. The loyalty to the organization and the authority in it, stem from this source and the twin virtues of loyalty and commitment can easily be made to percolate down the organizational ladder.

On the contrary, in the case of public organization where personal investment is not a part of leadership, its commitment, and loyalty are subjective. Owing to the State control, leadership is either implanted from within or imposed from without the organization, as opposed to its natural evolution in a private one. The policy is laid down by the State, often without taking the individual organizational requirements into consideration, and this invariably cramps the leadership style besides restricting its authority.

Work Ethos

Availability or otherwise of adequately educated, sufficiently trained and properly motivated personnel in the organization in the final analysis determines leadership effectiveness. The presence of such personal attributes as devotion to duty, integrity of character and self-discipline in the personnel manning an organization adds to its effectiveness even under mediocre leadership. On the other hand, even an outstanding leadership will be ineffective in an organization devoid of these characteristic in its people.

Essentially, leadership function is to provide policy, give direction, impart dynamism, create harmony, infuse morale, and develop skills besides planning for the growth of the organisation. Basically, it is the people of the organization who have to put in their combined effort, backed by their collective will, in order to make the organization function effectively. When the effort is lacking or the will is absent in the people, the best of leadership comes to grief in such an organization.

Morale Factor

Morale is all about an individual’s disposition as regards to discipline and confidence. Thus essentially, it is a state of mind influenced as such by the background of the individual concerned and the environment in which he operates. Though it appears to be a personal phenomenon, no other single factor affects an organization as the level of morale in its manpower. The twin tasks of inculcating discipline and infusing confidence in the people of an organization can be achieved by giving attention to the individual’s basic as well as higher needs. We may call this morale management. Many modern methods have been developed to improve the morale of the people in an organization and one of the more effective ones is the concept of ‘quality circles’. The impact of quality circles on behavioral changes is summarized by BB. Skinner thus: “By a careful cultural design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave - the motives, the desires, and the wishes. The curious thing is that in that case the question of freedom never arises.”

Since various organizational aspects interact and influence the morale level of the people, the same are to be properly structured  as to maintain a healthy morale level. Any leadership can ignore morale management at its own peril, illustrative of this morale factor is the defeat, often, of well organized and well equipped armies but lacking in morale, at the hands of motivated though ill-equipped and loosely organized troops.

Leadership effectiveness thus depends to a great extent on various factors inherent in the organizational environment. The purpose of this article, however, is neither to propagate the theory of leadership susceptibility to the organizational environment, nor to provide umbrage for the ineffective leadership as such. The conclusion, on the contrary, is much different. It is aimed at focusing various organizational ingredients that leadership has to reckon with and to highlight the need for overcoming the shortcomings that are inherent in the given environment of an organization.

This understanding of the organizational environment with all its attendant strengths and weakness will enable leadership to mould it to suit the functional needs of the organization. This indeed is the hallmark of dynamic leadership. The first step towards achieving organizational excellence is for the leader to show unmistakable faith in and visible commitment of the organization. The art of leadership is in leading from the front as opposed to chasing from behind.

Since an organization is conceived by human ingenuity to perform those tasks collectively which could not otherwise be performed individually, coordination among the people is a prerequisite for achieving this aim. The onus is on the leadership to elicit co-coordinated effort from the people. To sum up in sports parlance, the individuals of an organization should function with the team spirit of relay racing. Where this spirit is absent, the organization is transformed into an arena for a perpetual race of hurdles. The referee, however, it is the leader and it is he who can call the name of the fare.


More by :  BS Murthy

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