Leadership and Community

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Q1: Do you believe that leaders and managers should be categorised as Zaleznik (1992) characterises them or do you prefer Raelin’s (2003) depiction of their differences as ‘much ado about nothing’?

A1:   The problem of differentiation or dichotomy between leaders and managers appears to be one of the crucial ones in the organizational science. Two major approaches may be delineated with respect to its solving. That of treating leader-manager differences as based upon certain inherent and in-depth distinctions, and that of minimizing or altogether dismissing the very existence of such dichotomy. The former approach is exemplified by Zaleznik’s (1992) conceptualization of leaders and managers as different personality types, while the latter is upheld by Raelin (2003). Thus, it is necessary to compare and contrast both of them with one another.

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Zaleznik (1992) proceeds from an assumption that leaders and managers differ on four key sets of personality traits: (a) attitudes towards organizational goals; (b) attitudes towards work; (c) relations with others, and (d) senses of self. With respect to the first of these parameters, leaders would attempt to assume a personalized approach favouring their own intuitive visions of organizational development that cannot be categorised in terms of a single formal management strategy. In contrast, managers would strive to conform to the model of impersonal conceptualisation and elaboration of the organization’s goals, pursuing a formally defined strategy (Zaleznik 1992, pp.127-128).

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Likewise, managers would tend to view their work as predicated upon the number of definable strategies, decision making and rewarding procedures that are subordinated to a certain impersonal logic. On the other hand, leaders take innovative and inspirational approach, expressing their ideas in excitable and charismatic manner (Zaleznik 1992, pp.128-129). Similarly, while managers would keep an emotionally low profile in their interactions with the other employees or customers, leaders would attempt to reach out to them in a highly emotional way, as well as to establish the intimate and informal relationship with the employees perceived as their followers (Zaleznik 1992, pp.130-132). Finally, with respect to the sense of self, managers may perceive themselves as the organization’s loyal agents with their identity defined by their formal position and status. In contrast, leaders do not actually “belong” to the organization they are heading, as they constantly seek more change and novelty, directing their organization, while not being bound by its conventions and/or stereotypes (Zaleznik 1992, pp.132-133).

On the other hand, Raelin (2003) would openly dismiss Zaleznik’s classification as “the most chauvinistic of accounts” of the perceived differences between leaders and managers (Raelin 2003, p.38). Raelin argues that manager’s function in the continuous process of interaction with their subordinates and superiors, which would constantly offer them the chance to take upon leadership functions and engage in “leaderful practice” in their respective organizational environments (Raelin 2003, pp.39-40). Moreover, Raelin believes that the formal leadership training courses often offered by the middle managers in large corporations are either counterproductive or lacking their proper focus, as the expression of leadership depends more on the ability to inspire other members of “leaderful community” to participate in the communitarian leadership activity (Raelin 2003, pp.41-42).

Having considered the arguments of the both sides of the debate, I would deem Raelin’s opinion to be more convincing than Zaleznik’s. The substance of leadership is not connected with the holding of any formal titles and distinctions, and, thus, a person serving as a company’s manager would be able to perform the leadership functions in his/her working environment. For these reasons, it would be more proper to speak of dichotomy between ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’, rather than between ‘leaders’ and ‘managers’.

Q2: Can you differentiate the way Zaleznik (1992) treats the practice of leadership compared to Heifetz’ (1998) characterisations?

A2: Zaleznik’s (1992) conceptualisation of leadership’s practice is fundamentally based upon the person-biased account of the leadership traits as inherent in specific gifted individuals. Zaleznik goes as far as to compare leaders with artists, arguing that the former are fundamentally “people with great talents” (Zaleznik 1992, p.133) that may express themselves in specific circumstances conducive thereto. Accordingly, leadership practice is regarded as arising out of particular personal traits, generally conforming to what Heifetz (1998) would characterize as a “the trait approach,” predicated upon the exclusive role of the ‘great men’ (Heifetz 1998, p.17).

In contrast, Heifetz (1998) would consider leadership practice to consist in “adaptive work” involving the orchestration and subsequent regulation of the internal contradictions present in the respective leader’s community or other constituency (Heifetz 1998, p.24). Comparing the trait and “situationalist” approaches towards the essence of leadership, Heifetz came to the conclusion that both of them are insufficient as they eschew the considerations related to the specific values induced by the leaders among their followers. Dismissing the supposedly ”value-free” conceptualisations of leadership as biased and incomplete, Heifetz would argue that leadership is a fundamentally value-laden concept. The key issue to be considered is what values are inspired and instilled by leaders into their followers, rather than whether it is acceptable to insert the concept of values in the leadership discussion (Heifetz 1998, pp.15-17).

In Heifetz’s opinion, a leader is able to spur his/her followers towards the new directions, but in the course of this process, he/she has to consider the problem of “reality testing” (Heifetz 1998, p.22). The latter process consists primarily in comparative evaluation of various stakeholders’ viewpoints and/or perspectives on the activities vital for the leader’s constituents. Hence, a leader would be effective when he/she is capable of charting the most convincing and certain course of action for his/her followers.

Therefore, one may claim that whereas Zaleznik’s conceptualisation of leadership is individual-oriented and intuitivist, the characterization of leadership offered by Heifetz is primarily constituency-oriented with a leader acting as the constituents’ situational guide. Hence, both perspectives may be viewed as exemplifying various aspects of leadership practice.

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