Leadership Emerging

Russ Volckmann

Ciulla Ethics coverJoanne B. Ciulla, Ed. Ethics, the Heart of Leadership, 2nd edition with a Foreword by James MacGregor Burns. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2004.

Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good. [xv] At the heart of this relationship lies ethics, including:

  1. The ethics of the means,
  2. The ethics of person,
  3. The ethics of the ends.

Ciulla argues that “a greater understanding of ethics will improve our understanding of leadership,” because debates about defining leadership are about what is good leadership. Frankly, I find this to be a narrow assumption in that debates are also about what is and what is not included in notions related to leadership and about distinctions among leading, leader and leadership. Nevertheless, she agrees with some other scholars that ethical leaders are the only ones that can be “authentic transformational leaders,” a phrase that suggests at worst a tautology and at best a recursive definition. The assumption I am making is that those who are behaving from an authentic place are necessarily ethical (although I guess we could argue that from a number of different perspectives.

Furthermore, in her review of the literature she indicates that those in the various orientations of leadership theory have failed to develop the normative implications related to their theories. The approach that she aligns with as holding the more promise is transformational leadership.

Al Gini takes us through the notion that business ethics and moral leadership are academic oxymorons. For him, these terms do have meaning and are intertwined. And the role of (formal) leaders is fundamental to ethics in organizations:

“I am convinced that without the continuous commitment, enforcement, and modeling of leadership, standards of business ethics cannot and will not be achieved in any organization…Leaders help to set the tone, develop the vision, and shape the behavior of all those involved in organizational life.”

Leadership is about a relationship between self and others, thus ethics in business involves all stakeholders. Gini builds on the work of the late Joseph Rost (see interview, ILR, in this discussion of leadership and followership. He then extends his argument to conflate leading and managing when he echoes Tom Peters and Bob Waterman, “The real role of leadership is to manage the values of an organization.” As a result he fails to make a distinction between leadership and dictatorship. This leads him to note that both are values laden and “all leadership, whether good or bad, is moral leadership at the descriptive if not the normative level. Ultimately, he argues for attention to the level of commitment at the top of organizations to set the tone on ethics.

Edwin P. Hollander, in his chapter “Ethical Challenges in the Leader-Follower Relationship,” continues a similar perspective offered by Gini, one that continues to re-enforce the notion of leader as hero (flawed or not) and ultimately responsible for the quality of ethics in business relationships, particularly in the use of authority and power. Ciulla offers a chapter on “Leadership and the Problem of Bogus Empowerment.” She notes that leading occurs throughout organizations. She states, “I argue that authentic empowerment entails a distinct set of moral understandings and commitments between leaders and followers, all based on honesty.” There is a tension among values that is played out, among individualism freedom and instrumental value and/or economic efficiency. Thus leaders have to use more powerful means of control through empowerment. “Bogus empowerment attempts to give employees or followers power without changing the moral relationship between leaders and followers…Without honesty, sincerity, and authenticity, empowerment is bogus and makes a mockery of one of America’s most cherished values, the freedom to choose.”

Robert Solomon discusses ethical leadership in relation to emotions and trust, beyond charisma. He concludes that trust is the more important element in leadership relationships. Bruce Avolio and Edwin Locke exchange views on selfishness and altruism in leadership. Terry Price explores ethical failures of leadership. Michel Keeley explores transformational leadership, particularly in relation to presidents of universities. He discusses three myths:

  1. Presidents need to create a vision for their organizations that transcends individual interests. No, visions need to reflect the diverse interests of stakeholders.
  2. Presidents should be transformational leaders. No. good leaders are transactional.
  3. Charisma is an important aspect of leadership. Rarely.

Bernard Bass and Paul Steidlmeier give us the final chapter of this survey, “Ethics, Character and Authentic Transformational Leadership Behavior.” They distinguish between morla leaders (Mandela and Mother Theresa) from others (Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein) on the basis of ethical themes of modern Western societies: liberty, utility, and (distributive) justice. They argue,

“The ethics of leadership rests upon three pillars: (a) the moral character of the leader; (b) the ethical legitimacy of the values embedded in the leader’s vision, articulation, and program which followers either embrace of reject; and (c) the morality of the processes of social ethical choice and action that leaders and followers engage in and collectively pursue.”

These are pillars of transformational leadership, although some critics believe that transformational leadership is unethical and manipulative. They disagree, indicating that “true transformational leaders identify the core values and unifying purposes of the organization and its members, liberate their human potential, and foster pluralistic leadership and effective, satisfied followers.”

Grounded in traditional leadership theory, this book raises questions about the nature of ethics related to leader roles and leadership dynamics. Nowhere, unfortunately, is the bias of modernism transcended with any more complex understanding of adult development in relation to values and worldviews and their implications for issues of ethics. These scholars are wonderfully informed and competent to pick up the mantle and move to a new level of sophistication in exploring issues of ethics. Let’s hope that one day they will.

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Ciulla Quest coverJoanne Ciulla, Terry Price and Susan Murphy. The Quest for Moral Leaders: Essays on Leadership Ethics. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2005.

Beginning with an heroic view of leadership in her introduction, Ciulla presents an essay on the responsibility of leaders in their use of power, their “special moral relationship” with followers, responsibility for the big picture, and “making” others care about something beyond themselves. She provides an overview of the material in this volume.

“Our focus is on the complex ethical relationships that are the core of leadership. The quest for moral leadership is both a personal quest that takes place in the hearts and minds of leaders as well as a quest by individuals, groups, organization, communities, and societies for leaders who are both ethical and effective.”

According to this construct we are constantly in search of heroes, moral heroes who help us get the job done. Yet these are individuals in relationship, relationships based not only on values, but on emotions. Citing Soloman, “Leaders don’t just show us how to act; they show us how to feel.” Further, according to the chapter by Douglas A. Hicks, even religion plays a role in how we think about leaders. And leaders’ use of religion in relation to followers is a two edged sword, sometimes building and sometimes destroying the moral relationship between them.

The second part of this book examines how leaders think about morality. Some of the same authors as in Ethics, cited above show up here. One chapter by Peter Temes discusses how sometimes leaders must do bad thing! Dirty hands and necessary sin—derived from difficult moral choices between conflicting values like not killing and acting in self-defense.

The third part of the book looks at leadership in organizations. Tom Tyler’s work is focused not just on leader as individual, but on the web of variables and relationships while discussing the role of fairness in effective leadership. He states (noting his perspective as a psychologist),

“My approach points to a different reason for supporting ethical conduct by people is positions of leadership [I like this framing; it suggests both individuals and role—Russ]: the perception of the leader’s fairness has a strong influence on the behavior of followers…this psychological approach to ethics is highly congruent with the philosophical approach. The philosophical approach indicates that people should care about ethics, while the behavioral approach indicates that the people in organizations do care about experiencing an ethical climate within the organization to why they belong.”

Fair decision making processes in organizations is central to effective leadership.

S,D, Noam Cook models his chapter on Thoreau’s government is best which governs least assertion. Accordingly, leaders are most effective when they intervene as little as possible to support ethical approaches in organizations. In human systems ethics is one of the regulators for developing structures and direction of activity. He concludes that notions of effective leadership should be replaced with ethical leadership.

The concluding chapter of the book, “Expanding the Horizons of leadership,” by Norman E. Bowie looks at leadership in business, that is the “good leader” in business. Here the responsibility of corporations and leaders is to sustainability, defined according to the European Union as

“’Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ The three pillars of sustainability are measured by triple bottom-line accounting. The goal of the European Union is ‘to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.”

Corporate social responsibility includes enlightened HR management, helping workers adapt to change, and nurturing of a healthy environment. Bowie argues that ethic leadership is a commitment to sustainability. Leaders of corporations have a responsibility to be ethical in all aspects of their lives, as well as committed to sustainability.

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simons integrity coverTony Simons, The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word with a Foreword by Jim Kouzes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Jin Kouzes opens this work with the comment, based on his work with Barry Posner: “Credibility is the foundation of leadership.” This means that leaders do what they say they will do. Tony Simons has nailed this manifesto to the door. Kouzes summarizes Simons’ work as

“…if you walk the talk, practice what you preach, stand up for your beliefs, pout your money where your mouth is, follow through on your promises…your business will make more money.”

Simons calls this the integrity dividend. Replete with story after story with comments and examples from formal leaders in business organizations, Simon presents the economic case for integrity. He is talking about behavioral integrity that is about having an impeccable word, keeping promises, demonstrating your values so that others observe this. Behavioral integrity leads to trust by employees who then become more engaged in their work related activities, while all of this is dependent upon leaders’ demonstration of clear direction that, too, is dependent on behavioral integrity.

I found the attention to corporate or company culture being linked to all of this particularly telling. For here is a more systemic analysis of the dynamics of collectively aligned activity that incorporates values and could, if he would, include attention to worldviews. It raises an interesting question about the relationship between the model Simons proposes and the potential for development on the part of all stakeholders. For development depends upon life conditions and this is a model for contributing to shaping life conditions, is it not?

His discussion continues to look at principles that leaders can follow, e.g., promise less but do it often. And then keep your promises. Acknowledge uncertainties. Embrace conflict. Demand commitment. Use feedback and follow-up to perpetuate these efforts. And it means that leaders demonstrate personal discipline by examining themselves in relation to social deceit, delaying gratification and facing fear with courage. It requires self-awareness, generating social support, being conscious about giving your work, deeping track and following up and, when things go wrong—sometimes they will—apologize and get things back on track.

Like so many of his predecessors in the field of leaders, particularly the popular treatments of leadership, the author promotes the standards, but pays little attention to what is truly required to develop the capacities to embrace and manifest these standards by individuals living and working with different life experiences and life conditions. We are left, once again, with what Chris Argyris has so clearly identified as flawed advice and the management trap. How individuals see their worlds, as well as themselves, will shape their capacities for dealing with the hierarchical complexities of leadership.

Fundamentally, this is another in a long line of books that offer advice, much of it appearing to be common sense to some and arguable to others who hold different worldviews. Consequently, it threatens to be sermonizing and reductionist. That doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worthwhile. It just means that each of us are going to find different kinds of value and gaps in its presentation.

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AtlanticHarris Collingwood, “Do CEOs Matter?” Atlantic, June 2009.

In a surprisingly “academic” article with lots of references to researchers and authors on the subject, Collingwood lays out the fuzzy picture of the significance of having particular individuals (and their styles) leading and managing corporations. Building on observations about Apple’s recent experiences with Steve Jobs on and off the job (and parallel fluctuations in stock value) her is seeking to understand just how much difference a particular CEO makes in the fortunes of their companies.

He cites a preponderance of literature and reports from CEOs that indicates that the impact of the role on the fortunes of companies is probably best understood in terms of strategic directions and the dynamics of their own teams, but with waning influence beyond that. Perhaps I have overdrawn that a bit. Yet, it reminds me of the story of the CEO of a food products company who ate his meals in the company cafeteria. He continually complained that the ketchup was never thick enough. Nevertheless, this never resulted in a change in the production of ketchup.

The cult of the CEO grew in the last half century and particularly quarter of a century of the 1900s. It grew out of proportion, resulting in unprecedented hero workshop by consultants and management gurus, as well as unwarranted compensation packages.
But scandal and growing complexity seems to be taking the blush away from such hero worship.

Collingwood also brings in the notion of unconstrained managers who have caused great damage. He concludes, “Maybe that[‘s the ultimate lesson here: CEOs can matter, but we all might be better off if they didn’t. ‘Good leaders can make a small positive difference; bad leaders can make a huge negative difference,; Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeiffer told Fortune in 2006. Many Americans surveying the aftermath of eight years with an Unconstrained Manager as their chief executive, might be tempted to agree.” Allow me to add that an unconstrained manager is not necessarily a leader; perhaps they can only manage to get us in deeper trouble, particularly when their work is judged according to a triple bottom line.