Insight: A Method for Ethical Leadership
Seeking what is knowable in practice episodes...
The question “How do successful leaders think?” has always lurked in the background of scholarly inquiry into what constitutes successful leadership practice.
Whether scholars have posited an uncomplicated or more complex view concerning how successful leaders think, leadership has always been understood to involve inquiry, an intellectual process targeted at identifying and remediating the causes of organizational dysfunction. For their part, however, some critics have argued that the tradition built upon this view is “cast in a narrow mould” (Greenfield, 1986, p. 57) or, worse yet, “has little to do with the job” (Levine, 2005, p. 27). If after all these decades of intellectual toil and turmoil, an infallible and efficacious leadership theory has yet to be pinpointed, why do scholars still search for a more robust understanding of leadership (Beck & Murphy, 1992)? A challenging, yet little discussed response to this question is that when the power of insight spurs inquiry, leaders press beyond the limits of what is known and into the realm of that which is knowable.
The purpose of this discussion is not simply to posit an answer to the epistemological question, “What have scholars theorized about leadership and its successful practice?”, although that is where this discussion begins. It expands beyond this narrow conception by widening the scope of inquiry to consider a matter discussed neither in scholarly literature nor in most classrooms where leadership theory and practice are taught, namely, the power of insight to spur inquiry into leadership and its success as an ethical practice.
Synthesizing more than a
century’s worth of inquiry, this discussion first presents a typology in the
form of a 2 X 2 matrix. This matrix describes what scholars have posited
over the past century to constitute the intellectual processes involved in
successful leadership practice—its “causes”—and what scholars have mandated
over the generations that aspiring leaders be trained to know, understand,
and apply in practice episodes. Stepping back to behold this typology by
adopting a wider, more complex and integrative view, this discussion then
considers those subjective and objective intellectual operations—the stuff
of insight—that successful leaders utilize as they inquire independently and
creatively into the causes of those problems and dilemmas of practice that
threaten to impede organizations from achieving their purposes. This
discussion closes with some speculations concerning what is means when
leaders inquire into the problems and dilemmas of practice they confront in
a variety of organizations. Were leaders to unleash the power of insight
into what is knowable rather than simply to implement in practice episodes
what they know, these women and men would provide ethical leadership by
solving the “issues” at the root of the “problems” emerging in their
organizations (McWhinney, 1992; McWhinney et al., 1997).
A typology identifying leadership theory and practice...
A survey of the history of leadership training reveals two dichotomous trends—forming two continua—which identify scholarly insight into leadership. Each continuum presents a unique dilemma scholars have resolved in rather different ways that now evidence themselves in four distinctive approaches to leadership theory and practice, that is, the “tradition received” concerning what is known about how successful leaders make good decisions.
Cuban defines a dilemma as conflict-filled situation “that requires choices because competing, highly prized values cannot be fully satisfied….These values are anchored in professional, organizational, and personal expectations….They derive from organizational imperatives. Tensions surface when there is insufficient time to accommodate these values” (1992, p. 6). And yet, as Aristotle (1958a) noted in the Nicomachean Ethics, “virtue” (what much of the literature assigns the term “value” as a synonym) is not a “fixed” or “absolute” quantity and, as a result, the extremes on each continuum should be thought of as representing an excess or a defect—the ancient philosopher calls both extremes a “vice”—while virtue is located somewhere along each continuum between the two extremes, depending upon the context. Thus, when stakeholders exert pressure with the goal of getting leaders to resolve perplexing dilemmas, a resolution emerges as leaders determine where along each continuum they believe success is discovered. This is how leaders render a decision according to what virtue dictates, what Aristotle would call an ethical decision. “[To] do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one nor is it easy,” Aristotle wrote, “wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble” (II:9:195).
The first trend—identifying what scholars have posited that leaders should focus upon in practice episodes—is framed by juxtaposing an exclusive focus upon the person as an individual (or as a group) against an equally exclusive focus upon the person as member of an organization (Figure 1).
But, it must not be forgotten, an excessive focus upon individuals (and groups) as well as their needs and interests can become a preoccupation and perhaps even an ideology if leaders were to direct their attention exclusively to individual rights and fail to attend to another equally vital dimension of organization, namely, the organization as a community, including its purpose, mission, and goals. Caught in the horns of this dilemma, the question confronting leaders is: Just how much should I uphold my organization’s mission, purpose, and goals irrespective of an individual (or group’s) self‑interest? Indeed, striking the “correct” balance between the two extremes as the decision‑making process unfolds—that is, making a determination in actual practice episodes about what virtue dictates in a dilemma—is not easily achieved!
The second trend—specifying the knowledge and skills that scholars have argued leaders should utilize in the decision-making process—juxtaposes a rote process (i.e., routinely applying knowledge and skills in practice episodes) against a deliberative process (i.e., contemplating the knowledge and skills that should exploited in practice episodes) (Figure 2).
One response would be to implement knowledge and skills in a strictly rote and routine way. In some practice episodes, while that option might be an entirely appropriate decision, in other practice episodes it may not be appropriate at all. To be sure, one downside of implementing knowledge and skills in a rote manner is that others may perceive one’s conduct as overly impersonal and perhaps even dogmatically bureaucratic. To avoid that charge, leaders might decide to implement their knowledge and skills in a somewhat more deliberative manner. Yet others might perceive this latter approach to be more personal in nature, an excess in this direction presents difficulties as well. One’s conduct may well be labeled “wishy-washy” and “lacking principles,” where decision making depends upon who speaks with the leader last.
The juxtaposition of these dichotomous trends forms a 2 X 2 matrix depicting scholarly insight into leadership decision making that has emerged for more than 100 years. These insights—the intelligence and judgments of scholars in successive generations—form the tradition of leadership theory and practice—what is known—received and now codified in textbooks (Figure 3). These insights “lay behind” or are “embedded in” the tradition received.
Each quadrant reveals scholarly insight into and contributes a unique piece to the “mosaic” of leadership theory and practice as successive generations of scholars have contributed to and extended that tradition. In addition, each quadrant specifies the unique content—the knowledge and skills—scholars have argued must be included in training programs so that leaders will be prepared to make good decisions once on the job.
While Figure 3 identifies these important matters, of greater interest for the purpose of this discussion is the wider, more comprehensive and integrative vantage Figure 3 makes possible for considering the tradition of leadership theory and practice bequeathed to aspiring leaders. Evaluating the four distinctive approaches not simply as individual, functional pieces of a mosaic but, more substantively, as parts of a greater entity possessing its own synergies, is an important pedagogical issue to consider. That is, as scholars assist their students to think about the scholarly thinking that lays behind and is embedded in the tradition received as well as to envision the mosaic as an integral whole, scholars encourage their students to learn about, to develop, and to respect the role that insight plays in extending and perfecting the tradition and to develop insight so that, as leaders, they will make good decisions or, as scholars, will perfect and extend the tradition received.
Always at the heart of scholarly inquiry into leadership theory and practice is the challenge of developing keener insight into what “causes” successful practice. This more abstract topic has received scant attention over the past century and most likely because, as Greenfield (1986) has complained, the majority of scholars have busied themselves attending to more narrow and functional matters, namely, the individual pieces of the mosaic. This topic will be addressed later. Our attention first turns to a description of the four distinctive approaches—the expanding knowledge and skills base that has become the tradition of leadership theory and practice codified in textbooks—that scholars have advocated during the past more than one hundred years.
1. Thinking as a rational actor: The “administrator”
The first quadrant emphasizes the role of reason and of being reasonable. As problems emerge in organizations, stakeholders expect leaders to advance good reasons in support of their decisions. Legally, these reasons should be neither capricious nor arbitrary; administratively, these reasons should withstand the test of objective scrutiny.
Viewing leadership from this perspective, scholars have invented an abstraction—a successful leader—who implements in a rote manner the knowledge and skills that science has associated with best practice to solve typical administrative problems. Although this approach to thinking about leadership is oftentimes traced to Weber (1992) and Taylor (1967), it was Greenfield (1986) who traced it specifically to Simon’s (1945) thesis that science provides a method of “value-free inquiry” into decision making and administrative rationality. As Simon’s thesis impacted ensuing inquiry into leadership, thinking shifted away from questions about the nature of administration—the “wisdom” learned through practice and expressed as “principles” of administration—towards problem-solving or decision-making methods. The goal was to derive scientific hypotheses concerning what constitutes successful practice. These hypotheses could be then empirically tested and, if validity was established, be implemented by leaders in their organizations.
Yet, what must not be overlooked is the thought laying behind and imbedded in this approach to leadership theory and practice. In general, scholars were thinking about and adapting theories from other disciplines—and especially from the social sciences—in their efforts to describe leadership. What resulted was an approach to thinking about leadership steeped in the assumption that tools of science best portray leadership and viewed its practice as primarily analytic (that is, rational) in nature. However, this type of analysis purposely excluded self‑reflection, requiring instead that leaders sift through the array of possible solutions in order to make a rational determination about how best to solve administrative problems. This type of analysis also excluded “gut feelings” as well as “intuitions and instincts” because these are not the stuff of science but of irrational, non-scientific ways of knowing. For aspiring leaders, this emphasis upon hypothetico-deductive methods meant that technical rationality figured prominently in their training programs whereas “reflection-in-action” and “reflection-on-action” were purposely excluded because the latter were neither grounded in nor verified by a positivist epistemology of practice (Schön, 1983). Furthermore, excluding normative thought, like philosophy, from the rational actor approach to thinking about leadership theory and its successful practice, many substantive questions that should have asked at the time were not being asked.
The ascendancy and domination of the bureaucratic hierarchy in organizations provides an abject case for considering this matter. Lonergan notes:
Management is always seeking
power. Without a constant increase in power, management is not able to
control all the outside factors that might interfere with its plans. If it
cannot exclude those factors, it cannot achieve its results. And so there
occurs the rise and growth of a bureaucratic hierarchy. (1993, p. 60)
Is seeking power and controlling outside factors—assuming this is possible—to achieve management’s results without cost? If there is a cost, what is it?
Again, Lonergan notes: “…in the bureaucracy the intelligent man ceases to be the initiator. He does not have the power, the connections, the influence, to put his ideas into practice” (p. 61). What is the outcome? For those people who carried on—“doing it because they have to live”—find their work “changes into drudgery and routine, with no understanding of what is going on.” In addition, these people are “more and more driven onto the margin of the big process, of what is really going on.” And what is it they want? “The masses demand security, distraction, entertainment, pleasure, and they have a decreasing sense of shame.”
These observations identify what can happen to mid- and lower- level employees as the organizational system becomes increasingly bureaucratized. Followers will cease in their efforts to seize the initiative because they do not possess the power it would take to challenge the bureaucracy to allow followers to implement their ideas in their own projects. Thwarted in their ambitions, enthusiasm wanes as the bureaucracy stifles initiative and followers soon discover what they love—the purpose, mission, and goals associated with their work—devolving into something they must do in order to live—a job—as these followers increasingly move from center stage in the bureaucracy to its periphery. Then, as time moves on, these mid- and lower- level employees feel no shame about the personal and professional loss they are experiencing as they put job security and ease of workload ahead of what motivates (Herzberg, Mauzner, Snyderman, 1959). All along the way, however, it is the leader—the rational actor—who is the critical player in the organization’s center managing this movement of employees to the periphery (Shils, 1975).
Despite its critics, this analytical approach cannot simply be dismissed if only because its key insight—being rational in the decision-making process—identifies a necessary element of any sound decision-making process that appears to characterize successful leaders. The opposite, not acting like a rational actor by not being analytical, would likely prove disastrous! Perhaps this partially explains why this approach has persisted to exert influence across the decades.
Determining what that degree of administrative rationality should be, however, presents many challenges. Undoubtedly, an exclusive focus upon rationality can degenerate into an unhealthy and dysfunctional approach to decision making whereby leaders are obsessed with implementing their knowledge and skills—what Bennis (1994) has called “doing things right”—without attending appropriately to individuals and groups. Sounding an early warning about the potential for this approach to become malignant, Campbell and Lipham cautioned that “scientific knowledge offers maps, not prescriptions” (1960, p. 175). Sounding a clarion call more than two decades later, Greenfield argued:
A commitment to science in
organizational affairs is not simply a commitment to rationality; it is,
rather, a commitment to a restricted framework of rationality. Such a
framework, called science, eases the sense of responsibility for powerful
actors in organizational and administrative settings. It denies both
responsibility and personal choice in the making of everyday decisions and
in the making of decisions in the powerful world of organized reality. Such
science takes sides in conflicts about the rightness of organizational
purposes and about appropriate means for achieving them, but it denies it
takes sides and claims to look dispassionately at such reality. (1983, p.
Most importantly, when the knowledge and skills once learned in leadership training programs fail to deliver on their promise in actual practice episodes—that is, they failure to ensure “success”—hope about doing things right can devolve into skepticism as leaders gradually come to believe that nothing will work. Or, worse yet, their hope can devolve into cynicism as leaders come to believe that their training programs were useless. Perhaps for this reason Murphy (1999) has judged this approach “bankrupt,” in so far as the training of school principals is concerned.
Thus, rationality is a necessary part of decision making and reflects an important insight in the tradition of leadership theory and practice. The rational actor approach represents one body of what is known about leadership that leaders can use in practice episodes. However, this approach does not provide leaders insight into other, more substantive matters that are knowable in practice episodes if leaders are to be successful in administering their organizations.
2. Thinking as a moral factor: The “savior”
The second quadrant illuminates scholarly insight into the significant role that assumptions, beliefs, and values play in the administrative decision-making process. Having withstood the test of time and of critical scrutiny as well, this body of collective wisdom provides what might be termed a “moral” basis for leadership theory and practice. Dilemmas not problems figure prominently in practice episodes as competing assumptions, beliefs, and values vie for attention.
Barnard (1968) may have been the first to coin the term “moral factor” when expressing his ideas concerning the functions of a chief executive. In The Functions of the Chief Executive, Barnard propounded the image of “executive practice,” one steeped in his first-hand experience as American Telephone and Telegraph’s CEO in the early decades of the 20th century. For Barnard, successful executives created and established among employees a cooperative effort and shared commitment to the organization’s purpose.
As the concept of the rational actor gained ascendancy during the early- and mid- 20th century, the influence exerted by the moral factor waned. In recent decades, however, the moral factor has proven itself resilient and regained currency among some scholars, albeit in secularized, anti-capitalistic hues that earlier managers of virtue would have railed against.
Adapting normative theory from other disciplines for thinking about leadership theory and practice—and especially post-modern philosophy—this more recent incarnation of the moral factor envisions leaders as shepherding oppressed people to engage in communal reflection about why the organization exists—its moral purpose—and what this means for its members—its moral praxis. What the moral factor denotes for life inside of organizations is that leaders function as saviors rather than as administrators by engaging the members of their organizations in identifying and overthrowing any hegemonic ideology that either threatens to or actually does enslave employees. The moral factor’s ostensible goal is to enable others to be free so that they can engage in authentic organizational learning (DiBella & Nevis, 1998).
Because “facts are facts,” as Greenfield (1980, p. 43) has noted, they do not dictate what leaders must do. That is precisely why scholarly insight into leadership theory and practice as a moral factor extended thinking about leadership beyond the boundaries of the first quadrant and, ultimately, rejected its contents. Specifically, the moral factor requires leaders to become more self-conscious and critical of those assumptions, beliefs, and values that undergird and support organizations by “overthrowing or transcending the limitations of existing social arrangements” (Burrell & Morgan, 1979, p. 32). These not only sustain what has become the current and many times corrupt status quo, but they also make it impregnable to critical scrutiny and change, thus stifling the powers of human consciousness and creativity. For this reason, this body of scholarship predicates itself upon “critical humanism,” that is, a moral imperative promoting democracy, empowerment, and social justice (Lee, 1995, p. 37). Leadership training, then, necessarily involves transformative learning experiences which challenge aspiring leaders to become aware and critical of the assumptions, beliefs, and values that define organization and ultimately, to transform these through reflexive and collaborative discourse (Mezirow, 1997; Torosyan, 1999).
Thinking about leadership as a moral factor is a reasoned yet non‑scientific response to the extremes to which thinking about a leader functioning as a rational actor can be taken. “But placed in the history of ideas,” Greenfield noted, “the belief that administration is (or can be) a science appears as a phenomenon of the mid-20th century. As we near the end of the century, this belief is beginning to appear as a misplaced faith. It is also becoming clear why it is an enormous error to conceive of administration as a science rather than as a moral act...” (1983, p. 61, italics added). “We cannot discover what ought to be the case by inventing what is the case,” Taylor has argued (1961, p. 248). What scholars must do, he added, is to decide what ought to be the case. Accordingly, one important insight into leadership theory and practice this body of scholarship has contributed is the recognition that “doing things right”—the essence of leadership as propounded by the body of inquiry found in the first quadrant—differs substantively from “doing right things” (Bennis, 1994).
As moral factors in their organizations, then, leaders engage mid- and lower- level employees in a form of praxis aimed at liberating them to apprehend and to intervene in the organizational reality with the goal of changing it. Successful leaders promote this outcome by eschewing the “technology of control,” and especially its attendant bureaucratization and professionalization, as these are emphasized in the first quadrant (Bates, 1980a). Secondly, because meanings and intentions are in a continuous process of “becoming,” successful leaders negotiate with the members of their organizations so that these people will shape their organizations in ways that more authentically represent their meanings and intentions, not those of people outside of organizations who oftentimes have other interests motivating them (Bates, 1980b). In this way, successful leaders are virtuous, in that they facilitate the development of a more democratic culture in their organizations.
Furthermore, leadership oftentimes involves deliberating upon shared assumptions, beliefs, and values as well as bearing responsibility for decisions made. In contrast to rational actors, moral factors look to their organization’s purpose, mission, and goals rather than to science in order to discern were they have fallen short in assisting their organizations to achieve their purpose. Speaking about the importance of deliberation, Greenfield has asserted, “In organizational politics and administrative affairs, the acknowledgment of clearly chosen values can be dangerous....[it] enables us, both leaders and followers—to reflect upon our values. And in thinking about our lives, we may come to recognize that our decisions represent something beyond decisions themselves; they bespeak a value and perhaps a commitment” (1983, p. 64).
Echoing these themes, Leithwood and Duke (1998) have argued that the formation of leaders must include the normative aspects of professional practice—what’s right and what’s wrong—rather than stressing only the traits, behaviors, roles, and the like emphasized by the first quadrant. All of this assumes, of course, that if leaders are to function as moral factors in organizations, these women and men must know what the right thing is and acting upon that is absolutely crucial if leaders are to fulfill their role as saviors. However, identifying the right thing does present many difficulties. It may well be the case, for example, that the assumptions, beliefs, and values that make the right thing appear right are, in fact, elements of a hegemonic ideology that supports the status quo from which people in organizations need to be liberated, leaders included.
At the same time, it must not be overlooked that the moral factor can morph into an ideology where sustained and critical scrutiny of shared assumptions, beliefs, and values make it impossible to fulfill an organization’s purpose. As Bates (1983) has noted, when the moral factor is normative, leaders must differentiate between problems in administration and problems in organization, emphasizing the latter over the former. Thus, when the liberating ideals associated with this insight into practice becomes an ideology that views itself as impregnable to challenge, the moral factor devolves into a form of moral absolutism and a literalistic fundamentalism that squelches and excludes contrary voices which, in a twist of irony, is precisely why this tradition emerged in the first place! Aware of this excess—what Aristotle called “vice”—Hodgkinson warned that an organization can become more important than the people in it,
And worse; the organization
is not only reified, but deified. And the agent is not personally or
morally responsible for the acts which are under the authority or authorship
of the collectivity….And outwardly benevolent organizations can become
latent collective forces for evil. (1978a, p. 173)
It is the potential for this devolution that leaders must be aware of and guard against, if they are to function successfully as moral factors in their organizations. One only has to look at the Nazi regime and, yes, even the United States’ space program to see how the moral factor can lead people to devote themselves to a regime and to participate in administrative evil of untold horrific and immoral proportions (Adams & Balfour, 1999).
Serving as a moral factor in their organizations, successful leaders enable the people in them to utilize critical analysis not rational analysis to deconstruct the organization so that they can engage in the practice of building more democratic organizational cultures. Once again, this insight extends what is known about leadership theory and practice, but it does not provide leaders complete insight into all that is knowable if they are to administer their organizations successfully.
3. Thinking as an ethical agent: The “philosopher”
The third quadrant considers how leaders implement their knowledge and skills in a more deliberate than rote manner. Although successful leaders may be “reasonable” in the rational, analytic sense depicted by the first quadrant and critical in the deconstructionist sense depicted by the second quadrant, and whereas rational actors focus upon developing traits that correlate empirically with successful practice (Hodgkinson, 1978a, p. 18) and moral agents focus upon deposing hegemonic regimes that impede social justice and democracy (Larson & Murtadha, 2002, p. 157), ethical agents direct their attention to the quality of their personal character as this can inform and is revealed through the decision‑making process. In short, successful leaders are reflective about themselves and their role as they approach decision making in practice episodes, as Getzels (1952, 1958) suggested in the late-1950s.
Emphasizing self‑reflection—and deliberation, in particular—as the proper foundation for decision making, the insight into leadership theory and practice illuminated in this third quadrant is that success requires leaders to search for “truth” or “wisdom” especially as leaders discern these when dealing with problems and confronting seemingly intractable dilemmas. While leaders may not know precisely what the truth is or what wisdom dictates, they do act on the belief that both exist. Thus, successful leaders search for truth and wisdom as they deliberate about—or to use Lindblom’s (1979, 1994) oft-quoted notion, as they “muddle through”—their intentions and actions as these influence the outcomes of practice episodes.
From this perspective, successful leaders are “philosophers”—people who love and seek truth and wisdom—in the sense that these women and men take time to step back, to behold, and to ponder not only the organizational reality as it unveils itself before them but also what it requires of them. Unlike rational actors who endeavor to impose what science has validated as best practice or moral factors who seek to impose an ideology, ethical agents possess a more focused goal, namely, to discern what the truth is and what wisdom dictates must be done. Viewing themselves neither as administrators nor as saviors but as philosophers who must discern what the truth is and what wisdom dictates be done when dealing with problems and confronting dilemmas, successful leaders contemplate what virtue requires of them personally in the decision-making process as and they will reveal virtue in the decision-making process.
Furthermore, because personal character figures so prominently in this approach to leadership theory and practice, leaders must be authentic and discrete in their dealings with others, guarding especially against any failure to enact the behaviors which they espouse, what Argyris & Schön (1974) have called “Model I” behavior. As ethical agents, anything short of “Model II” behavior would give evidence of character flaws that have the potential to impede or to derail success, especially as those flaws generate perceptions among internal and external stakeholders that leaders are more interested themselves and their personal or professional agendas than they are in what the truth is or what wisdom dictates for the organization and its members. Note that “success” has more to do with one’s character than it does a rational, analytic process or moral regeneration.
As ethical agents, leaders are guardians of their organization’s purpose, mission, and goals. Instead of focusing the followers upon and imposing its purpose, mission, and goals upon them, leaders—moral factors would, ethical agents focus upon themselves and work assiduously to ensure that their characters reveal what truth and wisdom dictate in practice episodes to followers. Success, then, results as other members of the organization see in the person of the leader the quality of character that all are to reveal in their own person as they adopt a more contemplative and reflective approach in their own lives, that is, as they also become philosophers.
In recent decades, feminists have contributed to this approach to thinking about leadership theory and practice by extending its base to include feminist ethics. Arguably the most influential feminist ethicist, Carol Gilligan, stressed that traditional Western ethical theory is deficient to the degree that it lacks, ignores, trivializes, or demeans those traits of personality and virtues of character culturally associated with women. In a Different Voice, Gilligan (1982) argued that women focus more often upon “care”—a ethical concept associated with the third quadrant—whereas men focus more often upon “justice”—a moral concept associated with the second quadrant.
As an ethic of care would relate to thinking about leadership theory and practice, a “caring orientation” would direct leaders to focus upon the quality of character revealed in their interpersonal relationships of attachment and their networks of relationships as well as in their interpersonal connections, loyalties, and circles of concern—what Helgesen (1995) has termed “webs of inclusion.” In contrast, the moral factor’s “justice orientation” would direct leaders to focus upon the quality of character revealed in relationships where equality, impartiality, universality, rules, and rights figure prominently. Moreover, leaders operating from an ethic of care would view others as concrete beings who are so interdependent that the boundaries demarcating them from others are blurred. In contrast, leaders who operate from a justice orientation are so obsessed with the organization’s purpose, mission, and goals that these leaders think about others as abstract beings. In sum, leadership involves overcoming the highly impersonal, functional approach of executives advocated by the first quadrant and challenging the ideological hegemony exercised by the moral factors of the second quadrant.
Building upon this body of scholarship, Noddings (1984) has also argued for the development of a feminine relational ethic of care. For Noddings, care is not simply feeling favorably disposed toward the people with whom one has no concrete connection. Instead, authentic care requires actual encounters between concrete human beings—the “one-caring” and the one “cared-for”—something that cannot be accomplished through an agent’s good intentions alone. The former gives appropriate emphasis to a matter that is not discussed typically in leadership theory and practice literature, that is, the a priori requirement of a generous or magnanimous heart if leaders are to be successful when dealing with concrete persons. The latter also raises a second important matter not discussed typically in the literature, namely, that successful leaders need followers who not only stand up to but also for their leaders (Chaleff, 1995).
This relational ethic of care also challenges leaders to think about how, in practice episodes, their characters reveal the more spontaneous form of natural caring rather than more calculated and deliberate attempts to demonstrate that they care. While the latter is preferable to not caring at all and may be a role requirement, the former reveals the character of leaders, women and men whose genuine and heartfelt care for others is not manufactured through some rational analysis or imposed as a moral regime. Care is part‑and-parcel of who leaders are as ethical agents and is required in their focal role in organizations if they are to relate successfully with other people.
Given the contribution that feminist ethics has made to thinking about leadership theory and practice, has feminist ethics made as strong a case as it could?
Absent a theological basis, Ratzinger (1990) has asserted, feminist ethics succumbs to the trap into which the Enlightenment project has found itself ensnared, namely, a sterile and rugged individualism that ultimately ends in alienation. Understanding the human person as a relational being, one who by nature is intrinsically related to other human persons and discovers oneself in relation to other persons—what the Christian notion of the Trinity asserts, according to Ratzinger—provides a more substantive foundation for a feminist ethics that can offer the hope and promise of overcoming that sterile individualism—the “autonomous person”—which ends in alienation.
The strength of this approach to thinking about leadership theory and practice is its insight into deliberation and the importance of personal character as well as the choices that leaders can make in light of the virtues they seek to forge in their personal characters. But, some scholars have asked, “Why have scholars resisted this approach to thinking about leadership?” Hodgkinson has responded that “perhaps for the basic and stupefyingly simple reason that the central questions of administration are not scientific at all. They are philosophical” (1978b, p. 272). This outcome should come as no surprise because learning to think philosophically has merited scant attention in leadership training programs during the past century’s overriding quest to establish a knowledge base for leadership theory and practice. Thus, this insight into leadership theory and practice gives appropriate emphasis to the leader’s personal character, something neglected by the first and second quadrants.
Despite these contributions, thinking about leaders as ethical agents does possess two significant drawbacks.
Undoubtedly, this view of leadership is highly subjective. In an excess, this can influence leaders to become prescriptive (or “dogmatic”), especially if they trust infallibly that what they believe truth and wisdom dictate are indeed what truth and wisdom dictate! This is how leaders can easily become dictatorial in practice episodes as they uphold inflexible norms and require others to act upon them. This is an excess—a vice—this quadrant shares with the first. The difficulty here, however, is that the excess is grounded not in science—which can be subjected to objective scrutiny—but in personal assumptions, beliefs, and values. When leaders enact their role in this way—for example, because they “care”—they share this excess with those leaders who enact their role as moral factors. Whereas both are convinced of the infallibility of their assumptions, beliefs, and values, the former are dictators who impose their personal assumptions, beliefs, and values upon others, while the latter are fanatics who preach in absolute and fundamental terms.
A second drawback evidences itself when others members of the organization contest the assumptions, beliefs, and values that leaders assert are crucial. Substantive discussion can quickly become mired down in endless argumentation concerning whose assumptions, beliefs, and values indeed are “true.” Because subjectivity figures so prominently in this way of thinking about leadership theory and practice, meetings oftentimes terminate as people resolve their arguments by “agreeing to disagree” and then, grudgingly, moving on. However, this resolution is nothing more than abandoning the search for truth and wisdom by forging what is a very weak consensus where people agree either that no true assumptions, beliefs, and values exist (i.e., skepticism) or that all assumptions, beliefs, and values are of equal value (i.e., relativism). Both assertions are intellectually bankrupt; however, it may be that leaders and followers would rather not engage in debating these contentious matters and becoming entangled in “garbage can” decision making (Cohen, March, & Olsen, 1992), especially when very few may have studied philosophy and engaged directly in philosophical inquiry.
Perhaps due to these drawbacks, the rational actor approach has persisted and ascendancy of the ethical agent remains for many only a vague hope. At least by having an objective “scientific” basis and data to support a controversial decision, leaders know that it is more likely to be accepted by a majority of people.
Once again, self-reflection, deliberation, and searching for what “truth” or “wisdom” dictate as leaders deal with problems and confront dilemmas are important and need to be factored into the decision-making process. Because of this insight, the ethical agent approach to thinking about leadership has made an important contribution to the tradition of leadership theory and practice, representing yet another approach to what is known and something that leaders can utilize in practice episodes. But, even as leaders function as ethical agents, what they know differs from what is knowable in practice episodes. Thus, even this third approach fails to capture the full reality of leadership.
4. Thinking as an architect of culture: A “touchstone”
The fourth quadrant illuminates the thought process scholars have advocated by which successful leaders focus primarily upon the common good and implement their knowledge and skills in a more deliberate than rote manner. The outcome this mental process seeks to engender is that this generation’s organizations will serve as “cathedrals of culture” (Cutler, 1989) not by their architecture—although that does merit consideration—but by providing touchstone experiences of culture for followers today, just as leaders did in previous generations.
Thinking about leaders as involving the building of cultures and leaders as “architects of culture”—a phrase I adapted from Cook’s (2001) Architects of Catholic Culture—was spurred in the 1970s and 80s by Schein’s book, Organizational Culture and Leadership (1992). Schein asserted that organizations possess idiosyncratic cultures any of which can spur improvement in achieving organizational goals. Furthermore, successful leaders attend to this subjective aspect of organization to promote organizational growth. Popularizing these notions, Peters and Waterman (1982) published In Search of Excellence which described the relationship between leadership and organizational culture while Deal and Kennedy (1982) published Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life arguing that strong corporate cultures correlate with improved organizational productivity. Sergiovanni has added:
The real value of leadership
rests with the meanings which actions import to others than in the actions
themselves. A complete rendering of leadership requires that we move beyond
the obvious to the subtle, beyond the immediate to the long range, beyond
actions to meanings, beyond viewing organizations and groups within social
systems to cultural entities. (1986b, p. 106)
Language figures prominently in this fourth approach to thinking about leadership theory and practice because, for the most part, language—both verbal as well as nonverbal language—transmits culture. Applying Ferdinand de Saussure’s thought, who in the late 1800s and early 1900s posited that language is a sign system facilitating human communication that promotes understanding (Davis & Schleifler, 1994), theorists in more recent decades have examined organizational culture by thinking about the importance of language in building and enhancing it (Deal & Kennedy, 1982, Deal & Peterson, 1990; Bolman & Deal, 2003, Schein, 1992; Trice & Beyer, 1993).
In general, leaders appreciate and emphasize the relationship between language and culture because language not only can increase understanding between individuals and groups but it can also shape core assumptions, beliefs, and values. Especially important in this regard is how leaders use metaphors (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). For example, metaphors like “machine,” “brain,” “organism,” and “psychic prison” have been invoked over generations to describe organizations (Morgan, 1997). Yet, while each metaphor conveys an idiosyncratic glimpse into what organizations are and what they are to accomplish, each also conveys very different assumptions, beliefs, and values about the nature of organization.
Applying this thought, Sergiovanni (1994a,b) has asserted that success requires leaders to be aware of their language in that the metaphors leaders invoke to describe their organizations convey subtle messages concerning what is prized and valued as well as what is rewarded. In addition, success as architects of culture requires leaders to tell engaging stories. For Gardner (1995), stories convey important instruction about what the culture prizes, values, and rewards. Furthermore, because stories communicate lessons in oftentimes entertaining and colorful forms, appealing to both mind and emotion as well as to young and old alike, engaging stories not only convey instructive lessons but are also easy to remember. As Deal and Peterson note in this regard, engaging stories “ground complicated ideas in concrete terms, personifying them in flesh and blood...carry values and connect abstract ideas with sentiment, emotion, and events” (1990, p. 26). Besides their ability to instruct, Johnston asserts that engaging stories can also relate pivotal moments and watershed events in an organization’s history in terms of its assumptions, beliefs, and values so as to persuade others to adopt these as their own and, in this way, transmit an organization’s memory from one generation to the next (1987, p. 81). It is the leader’s job, Johnston asserts, to “fill the network with stories of success, achievement, and devotion” to the organization’s values” (1995, p. 15).
Reinforcing storytelling is a leader’s ability to teach history which details the origins of an organization’s earliest assumptions, beliefs, and values as well as how these have unfolded and perhaps have changed over time (Deal, 1985, 1993; Deal & Peterson, 1990, 1999). In this sense, history is not a leader’s rendition of the static dates, names, and events associated with the past; no, history is the dynamic narrative leaders tell that provides a way for followers to think in “time streams” which Neustadt and May have argued serve to illuminate current strategic issues in terms of continuity with the past (1988).
Although the use of language, storytelling, and teaching history typically are not emphasized in leadership training programs, the telling of stories—especially “war stories”—oftentimes does emerge in formal and informal classroom conversations. However, if these are to serve as architects of culture, aspiring leaders must learn to move beyond simply telling war stories by learning to use metaphors as well as to tell engaging stories and narrate history in ways that promote and reinforce their organization’s assumptions, beliefs, and values (Deal & Peterson, 1999, pp. 55‑56). To this end, Johnston (1987) suggests that leaders formulate a set of “people stories” they can draw upon in practice episodes.
Lastly, leaders must consider the proper use of ceremonies because these utilize both verbal and nonverbal language which Trice and Beyer have argued possesses a “sacred quality” and whose effect can be potent (1993, p. 110). According to Deal and Peterson, ceremonies “tie past, present, and future together. They intensify one’s commitment to the organization and revitalize for challenges that lie ahead” (1999, pp. 94‑95). “Without expressive events,” Deal and Peterson have opined, “any culture will die” (1982, p. 63). Ceremonies, then, provide another set of touchstone experiences as well as an important means for building culture in that effective ceremonies communicate and reinforce the assumptions, beliefs, and values implicit in an organization as leaders engage followers in behaviors that provide structure as well as meaning (Bolman & Deal, 1997, p. 222). As architects of culture, then, successful leaders think about everything transpiring in their organizations in terms of seizing upon what otherwise would go unnoticed and transforming all of that into ceremonies that convey culture. When rituals are transformed through drama and pageantry into touchstone experiences, leaders reinforce their organization’s assumptions, beliefs, and values for their followers. In this way, leaders assist followers to become what Cook (2001) calls “cultural players” in their own right.
Organizational culture, then, makes an organization cohesive across the generations in terms of purposes, although not necessarily in terms of forms, and is expressed in character traits as well as in individual and group accomplishments which reflect the organization’s shared assumptions, beliefs, and values, what Deal and Kennedy call the “right stuff” (1982, p. 37). Symbols are “the outward manifestation of those things we cannot comprehend on a rational level” (Deal & Peterson, 1999, p. 60) and, in this sense, the most effective symbols which communicate shared sentiments and sacred commitments.
Furthermore, because symbols are so powerful, leaders—as architects of culture¾must endeavor to ensure that their organizations effectively promote symbols reflecting what the organization values and cherishes. As leaders effectively use symbols to this end, they assist internal and external stakeholders to experience feelings the basic human needs of belonging and self-esteem (Maslow, 1970). Viewed in this way, success requires leaders who understand the “language” of symbols as well as how to invoke them effectively through their use of metaphors, in telling good stories and history, as well as in ceremonies and rituals. This is how architects of culture provide touchstone experiences through which stakeholders can appropriate for themselves what provided meaning for previous generations.
The “architects of culture” metaphor provides a helpful vantage for better understanding what successful leaders think about as they engage in decision making. Rather than imposing “best practices” found in other organizations upon the members of their organizations, as rational actors would, architects of culture examine those best practices to discern which, if any, best communicate what the members of the organization believe, assume, and value. In this way, “what is to be done” very much hinges upon the more crucial issue of “why it is being done.” Answering this “Why?” question is how, as architects of culture, successful leaders provide touchstone experiences which introduce meaning into organizational functioning, forge a values consensus, build pride, and encourage higher achievement. Absent these touchstone experiences, working in an organization can devolve into rote functionalism, that is, people do things because a powerful rational actor or moral factor requires them to do so, both of which are antithetical to the ideals of a democratic self‑governing community (Jacobs, 1997).
Despite the advantages of this insight into leadership theory and practice, there are significant drawbacks.
One has to do with cultural icons, those women and men who leaders might place on a pedestal as heroines and heroes to be emulated by others. As Cook has rightly noted, human nature is flawed and it would be better if leaders were “to emphasize heroic deeds not heroic people” (2001, p. 37). People are easily disillusioned, Cook has argued, and when heroines and heroes prove to be less than imagined, this can make people cynical, if not devastate any spirit of idealism. “In terms of what the [organization] rewards, then, what is rewarded is critical, not who is rewarded,” Cook has cautioned.
A second drawback relates to what Deal and Kennedy have termed “carriers” of culture (1982, p. 15). These include the past and present members of the organization who provide its informal communication and culture building network. While these individuals oftentimes do not possess formal hierarchical titles, they do form the organization’s “hidden hierarchy” (p. 85) and can wield an inordinate amount of personal influence in positive ways—building culture—or in negative ways—tearing down culture.
For example, is it not possible—especially when an organizations culture is dependent upon these carriers of culture to such an extent that they wield an inordinate amount of power within the organization—that promoting these persons will hold the organization hostage to the cult of personality (Cook, 2001, p. 37)? Or, by promoting as individuals to be imitated those whose lives revolve entirely around the organization, might not leaders be honoring behaviors and attitudes that should not be honored, for example, “workaholism”? “Promoting these individuals as role models endorses one‑dimensional, compulsive, and unhealthy behavior,” Cook has argued. “Sacrifice and hard work are laudable but workaholism is not” (p. 37).
A third drawback has to do with the way in which the tangible expressions of culture that have provided meaning to previous generations can devolve into mindless routines in the present generation. Metaphors, stories, history, ceremonies, and rituals certainly can provide touchstone experiences, especially as these provide members of organizations continuity with the cherished assumptions, beliefs, and values held by previous generations. Yet, over the course of years and decades, these artifacts of culture can devolve into boring routines—“the way we do things around here” (Bower, 1966)—stripped of their animating purpose and spirit. Sadly, these artifacts become what the Lutheran theologian, Jaroslav Pelikan (1971), called “traditionalism,” that is, the “dead faith of the living” (p. 9). In contrast, architects of culture attempt to imbue these artifacts of culture with meaning and purpose that provide touchstone experiences with the past, what Pelikan called “tradition,” that is, the “living faith of the dead.”
Thinking about leadership theory and practice from the vantage provided by scholarship associated with the matrix’s fourth quadrant, it is when leaders provide followers touchstone experiences that they function best as architects of culture. For these leaders, organizational culture is not a static and rarified “thing” to be imposed upon followers. Instead, through a dynamic and transformative series of touchstone experiences leaders creatively make what was assumed, believed, and valued as sacred about the organization in previous generations meaningful and true in the present generation. Successful leaders achieve this not by making themselves the focus of culture but as they accord recognition to all of those people and experiences which embody the culture as well as by socializing and acculturating others into it so as to enhance and perfect the culture (Deal & Peterson, 1990, 1999; Schein, 1992; Trice & Beyer, 1993; Sergiovanni, 1994a).
Yet, successfully translating an
organization’s assumptions, beliefs, and values into touchstone experiences
provides no guarantee that leaders will be equally successful when making
important decisions. While appreciating the role of architect of culture is
important and likely does correlate with improved organizational outcomes,
as Schein (1992) argues, functioning as an architect of culture does not
provide leaders insight into all that is knowable in practice episodes.
A method for unleashing the power of insight...
Having reviewed how two dichotomous trends in scholarly thought about leadership theory and practice intersect so as to isolate four distinctive approaches for reflecting upon leadership and its successful practice as well as the content each approach specifies for training aspiring leaders—the “tradition received”—it is clear that each approach possesses its idiosyncratic strengths and weaknesses. Yet, while each approach may well prove effective for leaders as they endeavor to remediate the causes associated with organizational dysfunction, each approach dictates what leaders should do based upon what they know. This intellectual operation, however, does not stimulate the power of insight to grasp what is knowable, that is, if leaders are to grapple with the substantive issues at the heart of those dilemmas—the conflict in values—that threaten to impede (or may have already impeded) organizational improvement efforts.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn (1986) described how the tradition aspiring scientists are typically introduced to and formed by has unwittingly constrained their ability to think beyond the theories mediated by the tradition received as well as by the tradition itself. When aspiring scientists are trained to replicate what is known, disciplinary canons stymie—if not stultify—unfettered inquiry into what is knowable. The outcome of such pedagogy makes it difficult, if not impossible, for neophytes to examine those phenomena sparking their innate interest in such a way that by inquiring beyond what is known, neophytes act upon their insight into phenomena by seeking to understand what remains unknown, at least to them.
Kuhn’s potent critique challenges scholars inquiring into leadership theory and practice to consider how the tradition they have received has functioned to constrain both themselves and their students from developing insight into what is knowable but as of yet remains unknown about successful practice. As a consequence, inquiry historically has been limited to grappling with the problems—the facts—that have kept organizations from achieving their purposes. This excessive focus—transforming a dynamic tradition into a static canon—has made it all but impossible for scholars and their students to grapple with the basic issues—those fundamental conflicts of values—at the heart of most dilemmas of practice. While problems more oftentimes than not distract leaders, conflicts of values are what leaders contend with routinely.
What is insight and how might it be stimulated by inquiring into leadership and its successful practice? To respond to that question, a foray into the realm of philosophy and theology offers an unorthodox, yet challenging approach.
The Canadian Jesuit philosopher, Bernard Lonergan, argued during the decades of the mid‑20th century that research is “much more a matter of practice than of theory...[because research] is always a concrete task that is guided not by abstract generalities but by practical intelligence generated by the self‑correcting purpose of learning” (1990, p. 149). In Lonergan’s view, the goal of research is for scholars to get behind all of the words, concepts, and judgments which comprise the tradition received in an appeal to intelligence which is formed through the interaction of understanding, science, and wisdom. To orient researchers to this methodology, Lonergan posited a paradigm consisting of nine sequential elements which originate in subjectivity—the personal interest spurring research—and terminate in objectivity. These elements include: 1) questioning; 2) thinking; 3) formulating; 4) testing; 5) judging; 6) evaluating; 7) self-affirmation; 8) being; and, lastly, 9) objectivity.
Before considering each operation individually, take note of Lonergan’s overarching goal: to integrate subjectivity and objectivity through intellectual inquiry. Research is not an exercise whereby scholars engage in the research enterprise objectively, a stance that has been cultivated through years of mentoring and careful study. Instead, research is an exercise which begins with subjectivity—all of what lies behind a scholar’s personal interests and which a scholar brings to and introduces into the research enterprise—and ends in objectivity—the capacity to utilize intelligence in order to make reasoned judgments. Research, then, is the mental process through which scholars integrate subjectivity and objectivity in such a way that the tradition received—the canon—is known and understood as well as extended and perfected.
For Lonergan, research begins with questioning, an intellectual activity that requires researchers to study the data of human experience contained in the tradition received. “What is this?” is the epistemological question spurring this intellectual activity and researchers ask this question of the material content of human experience (e.g., the content of human knowledge found in books and libraries) as well as the operational content of human experience (e.g., the type of content proper to each level of human consciousness that relates it to the type of object studied in various disciplinary specialties). But that is not all! Research also requires aspiring leaders to ask even more penetrating questions of the data contained in the tradition received from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. To wit, Lonergan noted, the natural sciences ask: “Are these mere data?” and the social sciences ask: “Are these meaningful data?” while philosophy and theology ask: “Are these true meanings?” As aspiring leaders question data by using this multi‑disciplinary approach, scholarly traditions are received, known, and understood in their richness.
Reflecting back upon the 2 X 2 matrix presented in Figure 3, each of the four quadrants provides an idiosyncratic snapshot of leadership and its successful practice, as identified by scholars. But, it must be remembered, just as the individual pieces of a mosaic do not constitute a mosaic, so too, four snapshots do not constitute a portrait. What is needed to appreciate the richness and complexities associated with human experience is an openness on the part of aspiring leaders to a wider conception of questioning and its role in unleashing the power of insight to inquire into leadership and its successful practice.
When aspiring leaders are first introduced to leadership theory, if questioning was the first intellectual activity emphasized in their training program, professors would challenge their students to examine the data reporting how organizations have failed to achieve their purposes. Questioning these data would raise numerous hypothetical explanations regarding organizational failure. More importantly, however, questioning would challenge aspiring leaders to grapple directly with the data by asking: are these mere data? are these meaningful data? and, are these true data? In order to respond to these questions, professors would need to introduce aspiring leaders to the tools of science, philosophy, and theology as well as their use and misuse. And, by so doing, aspiring leaders would begin their early study of leadership theory with an understanding and appreciation of a multi-disciplinary approach to learning about leadership, an approach that would bring the objective and quantitative into balance with the subjective and qualitative dimensions of human experience as these evidence themselves in the data of the tradition received.
Thinking involves accepting the invitation not only to receive the tradition, Lonergan asserted, but also to “take a good look at” the entirety of the tradition bequeathed to the present generation of researchers by their forbears. Because the tradition emerged as researchers vigorously questioned the data of human experience using the tools afforded by a multi-disciplinary approach to their inquiry, the tradition received is not a static body of information, a canon “decided” once and for all. No, the tradition received is much more dynamic in that its contents need to be thought about not only for what it is—what the tradition conveys as known—as well as studied anew for what has yet to be grasped—what is knowable.
For aspiring leaders, thinking would challenge them to study the tradition received, the “canon” of leadership theory and practice. They would do so, however, armed with the methodologies of science, philosophy, and theology which they learned to use when first questioning the data. This multi-disciplinary approach would require aspiring leaders, first, to ask questions of the data from a variety of perspectives that would raise discordant and perhaps clashing interpretations of the data that would pit at least two goods against each other. Thinking would require aspiring leaders, second, to press beyond the more comfortable confines of knowing and understanding the tradition—where intellectual toil frequently ends all too precipitously—and into the less comfortable confines—where intellectual toil really begins—of determining whether the meanings associated with the tradition continue to be meaningful, that is, by thinking about how they might resolve the dilemma embedded within the data.
The hard and challenging intellectual work of questioning and thinking set the stage for scholars to begin formulating ideas. Formulating is an unconditioned reflective grasp which, Lonergan asserted, is the constitutive factor in knowing. Formulating precedes yet determines truth as aspiring leaders press beyond what is known and inquire into what is knowable in practice episodes. The intellectual activity of formulating, then, represents a subjective achievement—that of radical intellectual conversion—through which aspiring leaders discover in themselves previously experienced mental operations as well as the dynamism that leads from one type of self-understanding to another and eventually the ability to work on one’s own within and beyond the tradition. This intellectual achievement is what enables aspiring leaders to develop a sense of the tradition’s development as they envision the series of interpretations that previous scholars have contributed sequentially as they inquired in their own day into what was then knowable. Also of significance is how the act of formulating requires aspiring leaders to identify those challenges which confronted scholars in previous generations as they questioned and thought about the tradition bequeathed to them as well as how their intellectual work generated inquiry into what then became knowable.
How different the intellectual activity of formulating is from what typically has characterized the training of aspiring leaders! Memorizing the knowledge and practicing the skills propounded by the canon as these are enshrined in leadership textbooks is not, as Lonergan defined it, the difficult and challenging mental operation of formulating. In contrast, this mental operation requires aspiring leaders to examine the tradition received but not in terms of what is known but, more dynamically, in terms of how scholars in previous generations inquired into what was knowable about leadership and its successful practice. This activity would engender a sense of awe and profound respect in aspiring leaders for those scholars in previous generations whose inquiries added not only to the body of knowledge and skills but also made it possible for future generations of leaders to inquire beyond what was known, namely, to grasp what was knowable in practice episodes.
Possessing respect for the development of the tradition, aspiring leaders would then learn to feel comfortable as they “play with” what is known and as they take their first tentative steps to inquire beyond the known and into the knowable. In this way, aspiring leaders would also develop self-understanding as they moved around within the tradition while also becoming capable of thinking on their own in more independent and creative ways beyond the tradition. Aspiring leaders would know the “story” of leadership theory and practice yet their inquiry would be neither constrained nor stymied by it.
Formulating is not sufficient, however, because verifying that knowledge exists is a very different intellectual activity than that which is involved in verifying what that knowledge is. Lonergan called the former “testing.”
Knowing the tradition and being able to “play” with it provides the foundation for understanding. However, verifying what that knowledge is—its content—is an entirely different intellectual activity. Testing, then, requires aspiring leaders to replicate what is known so as to establish its continuing validity or to determine its limitations and/or failures. Unless tested, aspiring leaders may propound the tradition in many useful and quite interesting ways. But, they will not have made the all-crucial attempt to determine its continuing validity, thus stifling the development of inquiry into what is knowable in practice episodes
While testing may appear to be overly abstract and impractical for use by leaders in practice episodes, consider what really happens when leaders fail to formulate and to test what they know in practice episodes. Instead of inquiring into whether the data continue to be meaningful and whether these meanings continue to be true meanings, leaders inquire only into new data without contextualizing them within a tradition. In this sense, inquiry questions and thinks about what is known not what is knowable. Thus, rather than extending the tradition or reforming it as may be necessary, leaders trained according to this regimen chase after and spend their money on elixirs promoted and sold by professors and professional organizations having been promised these elixirs will remediate all that is afflicting their organizations. In truth, if aspiring leaders would learn to formulate and test—to engage in a much more rigorous and demanding intellectual effort—they would save a lot of time, money, and frustration when they learn these elixirs have proven themselves to be nothing more than snake’s oil.
The fifth sequential element, judging, requires aspiring leaders to “define history,” which is to say, to conclude whether the data and their meaning convey a truth (that is, a “first in itself”) or a discovery (that is, a “first for the aspiring leader”).
As Lonergan envisioned this intellectual activity, aspiring leaders must derive a conclusion neither about the validity nor the invalidity of the truth asserted by the tradition—that has already been achieved through the intellectual activity of testing—but to derive a conclusion concerning the type of truth being conveyed. Judging requires aspiring leaders to answer the question: Is this truth something truly novel or is it truly novel just for me?
Were the history of leadership theory and its practice characterized by continuity rather discontinuity, the training of aspiring leaders would be dramatically altered. By carefully examining the tradition received, aspiring leaders would learn about the knowledge and skills posited in previous generations to be capable of solving the problems and dilemmas of practice. However, rather than simply knowing this content, aspiring leaders would also question, think about, formulate, and test the tradition, all as a preparation for aspiring leaders to judge its content. Rather than seeking to discover a truth, aspiring leaders would instead be challenged to predict with increasing precision not only the questions motivating scholars in previous generations but also the answers to those questions scholars were formulating in their minds. Training would focus not simply upon the knowledge and skills associated with the tradition received but more importantly upon the development of those intellectual powers that would enable aspiring leaders to judge that tradition accurately.
Developing judgment marks a laudatory achievement for at least two reasons. First, aspiring leaders are strengthening their intellectual powers to inquire into and beyond the tradition, a goal of utmost importance if leaders are to resolve the values conflicts that give rise to the types of dilemmas leaders typically confront in practice episodes. Second, aspiring leaders are inculcating the virtue of humility within themselves as they learn to value the truths posited in previous generations and to judge their efficacy for solving the problems of professional practice in this generation.
Like each of the previous stages, evaluating builds upon and extends all that has preceded. Aspiring leaders engage in this intellectual activity as they uncover the hidden and perhaps even false assumptions veiled within the tradition received. The insight achieved through judging—looking into and beyond the tradition—has set the stage for aspiring leaders to evaluate whether a “first in itself” asserted by the tradition is indeed true.
Ferreting out the assumptions embedded within the tradition received is arduous intellectual labor because it requires aspiring leaders to peer into what is—the data received—and to discern the thought process that guided how scholars in previous generations saw, understood, and interpreted the data they beheld. The question is: Did those scholars see what is or did something constrain or perhaps even blind them to it?
Assumptions can narrow a scholar’s view which, in turn, can make it difficult for a scholar to know what is and perhaps even to assert as a “first in itself” a discovery that is either a “first for the scholar” or an erroneous discovery. More problematic in the scholarly enterprise are those assumptions which, in reality, are ideologies that make it all but impossible for a scholar to see what is because a scholar is imposing what one knows upon the data instead of seeing the data as they are. Evaluating, then, requires a scholar to “know what one sees” rather than to “see what one knows,” a distinction posited by the Jewish biblical scholar, Abraham Heschel (2001), in his discussion concerning the role of prophecy in ancient Judaism.
For generations, most leadership training programs have been premised upon the assumption that aspiring leaders ought to be immersed in studying the theories and skills associated with “best practice” as this is currently understood. The ostensible outcome of this approach to training leaders is that, once in leadership positions, these women and men will function competently and capably by implementing the knowledge and skills learned in their training programs. Then, it has been believed, organizations will achieve their purposes.
Acting upon this assumption, training programs typically have emphasized textbook learning—the tradition received—which, more often than not, has required aspiring leaders to memorize the knowledge base and to practice the skills currently associated with best practice. While this approach has its place as a component of a more comprehensive approach to professional training—because after all, leaders should know the tradition received—this narrower approach fails to challenge aspiring leaders to question, think about, formulate, test, and judge the tradition received although, anecdotally, many aspiring leaders do question, think about, and perhaps even test the content being learned. However, “judging” has meant assessing the applicability of the tradition to practice episodes. More problematic is how this narrower approach trains aspiring leaders “to see what one knows” and to implement the knowledge and skills learned in their training programs to ameliorate what is believed to be causing organizational dysfunction.
While this narrower approach to training leaders has its place, absent is evaluating ,as Lonergan has defined it—that is, considering the implicit assumptions in the tradition received—which would foster in aspiring leaders the disposition of ferreting out the assumptions implicit in judgments that scholars in previous generations have made about the data. Only then would aspiring leaders decide whether the meanings inferred in the past continue to be valid. Furthermore, aspiring leaders would then become more capable of articulating their personal stance vis-à-vis the data received, “played with,” and judged. But, most importantly, inculcating the disposition of evaluating in aspiring leaders would enable them “to know what one sees” rather than simply “to see what one knows” in practice episodes.
If intellectual formation, in general, and ferreting out the assumptions embedded in the tradition received and taking a personal stance vis-à-vis that tradition, in particular—training aspiring leaders to know what they see—were to be emphasized in leadership training programs, aspiring leaders would find themselves challenged not simply to know and understand the tradition received with the intention of implementing its best practices in their organizations. Of greater importance, the outcome of this intellectual formation would be the honing of the ability on the part of aspiring leaders to evaluate. Freed from the strictures of assumptions which may constrain their ability to know what is or which actually blind leaders to reality itself, this intellectual formation would enable them, in leadership practice, to investigate the causes of dysfunction in their organizations and to discern what the data truly mean.
Evaluating is an important intellectual capability, especially for leaders. Building upon the virtue of humility, evaluating requires leaders to value knowing what they see more than seeing what they know. The ability to discern “what is” then assists leaders to identify the assumptions implicit in the tradition received so that leaders can articulate their personal stance vis-à-vis the validity of the tradition for the idiosyncratic situation in which they find themselves. Lastly, leaders would make decisions for which they would bear personal responsibility.
Armed with this intellectual formation, leaders would be capable of transforming “managerial practice”—seeing what they know—into “ethical leadership”—knowing what they see and doing something about it, for which they would bear personal responsibility. These women and men would provide a prophetic voice in their organizations—perhaps a “voice in the wilderness”—who would identify the values conflicts confronting their followers, possess the courage to challenge these women and men to resolve their conflicts, and assist them to identify and implement a pathway toward this goal (McWhinney, 1992; McWhinney, Webber, Smith, & Novokowsky,1997).
The mental journey and rigors associated with getting behind all of the words, concepts, and judgments that comprise the tradition received—in an appeal to intelligence as this is formed through understanding, science, and wisdom—is not concluded once aspiring leaders have evaluated the data, identified their personal stance vis-à-vis the data, and rendered a decision about the data. All of this provides the foundation for another mental operation, what Lonergan termed “self‑affirmation.”
Perhaps a somewhat stunning term given the trajectory of the research enterprise during the past century at least, self-affirmation appears to run contrary to the research enterprise as it seemingly introduces not greater objectivity into the enterprise but injects what appears to be a decidedly subjective element into it. Yet, Lonergan insists, subjectivity is where all research begins.
Many—if not most—of those who aspire to be leaders make the decision to study leadership theory and practice following several years of experience in organizations. Believing they might be able to make a difference in many areas, aspiring leaders typically are motivated not by impersonal goals but by very personal goals. Their experience leads aspiring leaders to believe they know and understand what organizations need if they are to succeed and what leaders need if they are to assist followers to the end of fulfilling their organization’s purpose. Hence, aspiring leaders come to their training programs possessing not only very personal goals but very practical aims as well. They come looking for the knowledge and skills that will assist them bring to fruition these personal goals and practical aims. This is what motivates aspiring leaders to engage in the study of leadership theory and practice.
All of this presents a difficult pedagogical challenge because beyond unleashing the power of insight in aspiring leaders to be capable of judging and evaluating the tradition received, professors must also assist aspiring leaders to relate these mental operations to self-affirmation, namely, the intellectual delight aspiring leaders can experience as they develop conversancy with the tradition as well as the fulfillment they can experience as they begin using the tradition received in practice episodes. The difficulty is for professors to get aspiring leaders to equate fulfillment not with “getting it right” in the sense aspiring leaders experience fulfillment by making correct judgments about what needs to be done to deal successfully with problems or dilemmas. Instead, the difficulty for professors is to get aspiring leaders to equate fulfillment with their more subjective, concrete, and personal goals—the why behind the what they do—and especially the fulfillment aspiring leaders can experience by situating themselves within the tradition received, actively participating in it, and appropriating it to the problems or dilemmas of practice through mastery of the foundations, doctrine, and systematics of leadership as well as in communicating them.
While the development of these mental operations should provide experiences where aspiring leaders feel fulfilled, their more practical aims—focused more upon what and doing than upon why and how—can mitigate the power of these feelings and, as a consequence, cause aspiring leaders to conclude that their training programs are irrelevant or, even, meaningless. They protest: “How does this relate to what I want to do?”
Given their very personal goals and practical aims, the answer to this question is very hard for aspiring leaders to accept. Self-affirmation builds upon and extends the intellectual work that lies beyond evaluation in that aspiring leaders are seeking personal fulfillment in what they understand to be meaningful and true, all of which takes root in, bespeaks, and is reflected in one’s character. What aspiring leaders learn in their training programs is not a body of sterile and objective information existing somewhere “out there” that is to be implemented in a rote and routine fashion or imposed like a template upon their organizations. What is learned is a living and dynamic body of intelligence existing somewhere “in here” that gives expression to and affirms aspiring leaders once they being immersing themselves directly in solving the problems and dilemmas of practice.
The subjectivity implicit in self-affirmation and evidenced in its four functions sets the stage for or finds its culmination in what could be called “way of life” or what Lonergan termed “being” for aspiring leaders.
This important yet much overlooked dimension of the research enterprise requires leaders who not only engage capably in research but who also embody what they experience to be self-affirming as a personal lifestyle or way of “being” in the world. In the way leaders conduct themselves, they represent or witness the value, importance, and ultimate purposes of the enterprise to which they have devoted themselves and through which they have experienced and continue to experience great personal meaning and fulfillment as well.
But, this is not all.
In the way leaders conduct themselves, they also serve as role models and mentors who represent or witness what it means for a human being to be a leader and what this requires of leaders personally. Moreover, and perhaps more substantively, as role models and mentors, leaders inspire a whole new generation to question, think, formulate, test, judge, evaluate, and become self‑affirming as neophytes begin to engage in research, to be transformed by the tradition received, and to transform it. In this way, “being a leader” attracts the attention of others who themselves enter into what Lortie (1975) called “the apprenticeship of observation.” One day, perhaps, some neophytes themselves will become leaders taking the place of their role models and mentors by extending and perfecting the tradition received in a new generation.
In this way, who one is—a leader’s “being”—provides the substantive foundation for what one is and what one does. “Being,” then, is not subjective in the restricted sense that it turns a leader’s sights inwards or is self-defined. In fact, this conception of being raises a leader’s sights beyond any narrow preoccupation with oneself, namely, with what one is—a leader—and what one does—leads. Why one does what one does animates one’s being.
History is instructive in this regard, providing an avenue for considering the importance of a leader’s “being” and its influence upon others, and especially one’s those who may one day become leaders themselves.
In the world of Imperial Rome, a citizen’s being was no trivial matter. Decorum—that is, propriety in conduct, social manners, and appearance—was a very august matter. However, decorum was not simply the grammatical and rhetorical rules associated with public speaking, for example, the ability to speak well by adjusting one’s words and subject matter to fit each other, the circumstances and occasion, and the audience, as Aristotle argued (1984, pp. 31-34), or by discovering and developing arguments appropriate to given circumstances and structuring the procedures of public speech and teaching to fit these contingencies, as Cicero (2001) later argued. Neither was decorum simply the ideal of civility, cultivation, and politeness as it was understood during the Renaissance (Gallagher, 1994, p. 107). Nor was decorum simply an “ideal of politeness” as it was understood in the 18th century when “its language and values permeated every aspect of cultural life” (Brewer, 1997, p. 100).
Yes, in that decorum provides a procedure—or “protocol”—to guide appropriate social conduct, it involved all of these for the citizens of Imperial Rome. Yet, the ideal was far more expansive because decorum concerned more significantly how one’s being embodied civic virtue—what today is called “the right stuff”—that bespoke a vir Romanitas (a true Roman citizen) and vir eloquentissimus (a most eloquent citizen) who had achieved political glory, thus ensuring earthly immortality (Dodaro, 1994).
A leader’s being, then, exhibits decorum in that a code—albeit an unwritten code—governs scholarly conduct (that is, scholarly propriety). However, leaders neither wear nor do they change leadership decorum in the way that they might don a new set of clothes or exchange a suit of clothes as preferences, tastes, and seasons change. No, leadership decorum exhibits itself through a leader’s being as one questions, thinks, formulates, tests, judges, evaluates, and experiences self‑affirmation through all of one’s endeavors. These characteristics, then, bespeak a code which the leader has internalized and personalized, not social etiquette changed or adapted for particular situations or under particular circumstances because one is vain or seeks earthly praise or glory. This code governs one’s conduct not because it is imposed externally upon a leader but precisely because one’s being has been transformed as a leader engages leadership. In this way, decorum requires leaders to possess not just the grammatical and rhetorical skill of their individual disciplines as well as aesthetic sensitivity but also ethics and not mastery of the content of their individual categories but their dynamic interaction with one another as well (Dodaro, 2000, p. 5).
Leadership decorum is not such an expansive concept, however, that it can conjured to mean and to require just about anything. In fact, the four functions of self‑affirmation—and especially that of communication—provide the means by which leaders exhibit decorum, that is, as they defend the authority and autonomy of their judgments. That is why leadership decorum requires a person who is not a “know it all” but, as Socrates noted in his dialogue with his student, Meno (Plato, 1981), one who “knows what one does not know” and busies oneself seeking what is knowable but remains unknown. Nor does a leader seek either personal glory or accolades. Why? Leadership decorum requires a person who exudes a profound sense of humility because the love of the meaningful and true is one’s guide. Humility reins in any excess of pride. Leadership decorum, then, is comprised of three dimensions: the objective, subjective, and communal.
In practice episodes, aspiring leaders one day will witness to the tradition learned as part of their training programs. Conversant with this tradition, aspiring leaders will bring theory and skill to bear and, especially through the decision‑making process, will allow insight to guide them not only in making determinations about how theory and skill are to be implemented but also as they reveal through their being the particular qualities of professionalism required. All of this specifies the content defining the objective dimension of leadership decorum.
Yet, aspiring leaders will also be “human beings” and each in one’s own idiosyncratic way will represent and witness only to the scholarly tradition but also to the reality of being human. In practice episodes, and again especially through the decision-making process, aspiring leaders will reveal qualities of personal character that will remind others and can challenge them to a higher standard of “being.” Whether it followers, fellow administrators, technical and support staff, or people external to the organization, the qualities of personal character revealed as they lead does influence people, for better or worse. All of this specifies the content defining the subjective dimension of leadership decorum.
In addition, stakeholders inside and outside of the organization have various perceptions regarding how they believe leaders should act inside of their organizations (and, perhaps, outside of them as well). While the content of these perceptions might vary, it is likely that all stakeholders expect leaders to act virtuously. It is in this sense, then, that stakeholders expect leaders to be professional, to possess high standards of professional and personal ethics, and to be fair-minded. Furthermore, stakeholders judge leaders against these perceptions which provide the content defining the communal dimension of leadership decorum.
In the way aspiring leaders will conduct themselves—in their “being”—they will evidence leadership decorum in its objective, subjective, and communal dimensions. They will not be expected to know everything, but they will be expected to know and enact what it means to be a leader in its professional, personal, and communal dimensions in the sense that leaders represent and witness in their being to the purposes for which their organizations exist.
It is so very easy to talk glibly about professionalism and personal responsibility as well as the need for scholars and leaders to model proper, reasonable, and ethical behavior in their conduct. Leadership decorum provides a much more exacting standard in that virtue must emanate from within and be evidenced through a leader’s being. “Walk the talk” is one way this concept has been expressed. However, that aphorism does not necessarily require the type of personal transformation on the part of the scholars and leaders that decorum demands. As the virtues implicit in scholarly decorum animate leaders in their being and are evidenced in conduct that expresses their being, this is how leaders make the purposes of their organizations their own.
The ultimate purpose of the research enterprise is to enable scholars to report what they believe is meaningful and true in an objective manner. As leaders know all too well, decision making about what to do in practice episodes is fraught with difficulty and peril, especially as pressures are brought to bear upon practitioners to adopt “new” and “novel” approaches and to reject “old” and “passé” approaches.
Unfortunately, the concept of objectivity is not properly understood by the public at large and perhaps by many leaders as well because when a “truth” is propounded—especially as it relates to research findings—it is subject to the limitations of the particular disciplinary methodology employed by researchers. Even the scientific method—with all of its alleged objectivity—limits the extent to which scientists may assert that a particular finding is true, that is, a “first in itself.”
Thus, while the media oftentimes will trumpet how researchers have “proven” something (and sometimes leaders themselves also assert), the methods utilized in the process of testing data are not capable of producing any such outcome whatsoever. In fact, the scientific method is accurate only to the degree of error set prior to testing data (that is, α = .xx). Furthermore, when these “findings” are trumpeted, leaders should be the first to offer more sober and authoritative assessments. Then, because many people immediately exert pressure upon leaders to implement these findings, leaders must be conversant with the tradition received as well as what researchers are positing in order to speak authoritatively and to avoid “jumping on a bandwagon” which may be headed for nothing better than a dead end. For leaders, objectivity is necessary if they are to assess accurately the validity of research findings and to avoid making erroneous decisions moving forward.
Objectivity, then, denotes a very precise reality, namely, the assertion that a finding that is as free from subjective influence as is humanly possible.
For aspiring leaders, developing objectivity is an important goal that, when achieved, reveals the intellectual process of questioning, thinking about, formulating, testing, judging and evaluating the data of the tradition received but—like scholars—only after aspiring leaders experience self‑affirmation and as their “being” reveals the transformation effected in them by the tradition received. Objectivity evidences itself in practice episodes as leaders do not fall prey to the temptation of adopting what’s “new” and the “novel” simply because it is new and novel.
Adopting Sergiovanni’s (1986a) language to express this concept, aspiring leaders need to understand their “antecedents” and “theories of practice”—the objective and subjective dimensions of human experience implicit in leadership and its successful practice—and not allow these to function as ideologies that constrain the power of insight in practice episodes. Instead, having learned to respect the tradition received and to utilize of it what can assist aspiring leaders—one day as they practice leadership—in dealing with the problems and dilemmas of practice, even when pressures are being exerted upon leaders to reject elements of the tradition received as passé and to adopt something new and novel that has not been subjected to critical scrutiny, these women and men will not succumb to this temptation.
Thus, objectivity will evidence itself as the virtue of humility informs leadership practice. That is, leaders not only respect the tradition received—what is known— but also do not allow it to function as an ideology constraining the power of insight so that leaders fear the unknown—making it synonymous with what is knowable. Instead, humility makes it possible for leaders in practice episodes to “look back”—to the known—and to “look forward”—to the knowable and to discern what is needed.
Catchy aphorisms oftentimes used as book titles, for example, “Leading with Soul and Spirit” (Bolman & Deal, 2002), may inspire leaders to act. But, Lonergan’s paradigm requires intellectual honesty and intentionality of the part of leaders so that as they are responsive to the spark of insight, they will make judgments by using understanding, science, and wisdom to engage what is known with what is knowable in dialogue for the present. Conceived in this way, objectivity is not a form of professional detachment or a professional achievement but a personal achievement as scholars and leaders allow their innate desire to know (Aristotle, 1958b, I.1) to be transformed into a way of being. Then, as leaders pore over and respect the data of the tradition, interpret the data to judge what the truth is and, finally, act on it, they lead others.
Thus, objectivity makes it possible for leaders to speak with authority regarding the terrain one’s discipline has traversed—the “what is known”—and the terrain yet to be traversed—the “what is knowable.” In addition, leaders speak with authority concerning what is meaningful and true about the tradition received—those “first in itself” discoveries—and its limitations as well—those mistaken “firsts for oneself.” Because leaders have inquired into and beyond the tradition, they exhibit decorum and speak with authority as well as a prophetic voice to challenge others “to see what they know” rather than simply “to know what they see.”
It is also so very easy to talk glibly about professionalism and personal responsibility as well as the need for leaders to model proper, reasonable, and ethical behavior in their conduct. Leadership decorum provides a much more exacting standard in that virtue must emanate from within and be evidenced through a leader’s being. “Walk the talk” is one way this concept has been expressed. However, that aphorism does not necessarily require the type of personal transformation on the part of the scholars and leaders that decorum demands. As the virtues implicit in scholarly decorum animate leaders in their being and are evidenced in conduct that expresses their being, this is how leaders enable others to make the purposes of the organization their own.
Insight, aspiring leaders, and ethical leadership...
So, what is insight and what may be its role in leadership and its successful practice?
Technically, insight is the intellectual power to think about organizations as questioning, thinking, formulating, testing, judging, and evaluating which builds upon, extends, and perfects intellectual history and, in this case, the builds upon, extends, and perfects content of leadership both in theory and in practice—in a leader’s self-affirmation, being, and objectivity. Invoking the metaphor of a wheel, Lonergan explains:
The act of understanding occurs
with respect to imagined or sensible data. The human situation at any time
includes a set of data; someone understands something, gets a bright idea,
and figures out what would happen if this idea were put into effect. He
takes counsel with others or with the influential people; a policy is
devised; consent is won; and human action changes in light of the new idea.
The change in human action brings about a new situation, and the new
situation suggests further acts of understanding. The process functions as
a wheel: situation, insight, counsel, policy, common consent, action, new
situation, new insight, new counsel, new policy, and so on. The wheel can
turn indefinitely. (pp. 50-51)
Because this wheel turns indefinitely, the process is continuous, involving experience, insight, and choice (1993, p. 50).
Crucial to achieving insight is the leader’s understanding that intelligence is not something sought—as if intelligence is an achievement—but something to be known and understood and which spurs greater subjective and objective intellectual operations. Insight, then, motivates leaders to journey in the direction of a yet unknown but possibly very interesting future, one characterized by the hope of encountering the yet unknown as the power of insight spurs leaders onward to develop knowledge and understanding. In this way, according to Lonergan, the data of human experience spur insight in leaders which, in turn, empowers judgment.
When aspiring leaders are trained to understand the tradition received as a “that towards which,” they would first attempt to enter into those intellectual operations which led scholars in previous generations to formulate various theories and models and attempt to discern the appropriateness of these theories models by considering their relevance, given the particular problem or dilemma of practice confronting them in this particular organization. Doing so would require aspiring leaders to question, think, formulate, test, judge, and evaluate what they know and understand if the power of insight is to spur them to probe into what really is transpiring in their organizations and to conjure in their minds what is really needed. Identifying alternate scenarios (Bolman & Deal, 2003; Morgan, 1997) would assist in widening the scope of inquiry into what is transpiring inside of their organizations.
Were leadership merely the application of common sense, there would be no need to for leaders to know or understand the tradition. However, as an area of scholarly endeavor, leadership theory and practice has pressed beyond the limits of common sense—as helpful as it may be as an element of successful practice—by formulating a tradition and subjecting it to critical scrutiny and, then, transmitting it down from generation to generation. In doing so, scholars have endeavored not merely to know but also to understand the tradition by pressing beyond the limits of the tradition received as the power of insight has spurred scholars in successive generations to think independently and creatively. Two intellectual operations—knowing and the dynamic interaction of questioning, thinking, formulating, testing, judging, and evaluating are the stuff of insight—made it possible for scholars in previous generations to generate new knowledge and understandings about leadership and its successful practice.
More than two millennia ago, Aristotle (1958a) noted in The Metaphysics that inquiry into the causes of phenomena like those typically confronting leaders in practice episodes doesn’t conclude by correctly identifying a material cause (or its physical manifestations akin to symptoms of a disease) and by applying unitary solutions (which would be akin to treating the symptoms rather than inquiring into the disease from which the symptoms arise) to the problem at hand. No, for Aristotle, successful inquiry is a consequence of probing more penetratingly into phenomena—like organizational dysfunction—as human beings direct the powers of their minds to inquire also into the causes of phenomena. Through this rigorous intellectual exercise, mental powers are refined—especially power of the intellect—and evidence themselves as insight spurs leaders to know what is transpiring in their organizations and to provide the leadership needed for these organizations to achieve their purposes.
The history of leadership theory and practice indicates that many scholars who have thought about leadership, many of those who have trained aspiring leaders, and the textbooks used to train them have been telling aspiring leaders what to think in practice episodes rather than cultivating their ability to think independently and creatively in practice episodes. Were scholars and aspiring leaders to step back and to behold the mosaic of successful leadership practice from a more holistic perspective, its aesthetics would unleash the power of insight so that scholars and aspiring leaders would both engage in more probative inquiry into what constitutes successful practice and, ultimately, to provide the leadership needed so that organizations achieve their purposes.
Success in leadership practice, then, would no longer be viewed narrowly as the imposition of unitary solutions derived from the empirical methods and learned from textbooks upon those phenomena impeding organizations from achieving their purposes. Neither would success be viewed simply as a consequence of the application of common sense. Nor would success in leadership practice be viewed as a professional endeavor requiring the development of professional knowledge (Argyris & Schön, 1974). While solutions proposed by science and learned from textbooks, common sense, and professional knowledge can contribute to success as a leader, successful practice would be viewed instead as the consequence of a highly complex intellectual activity, namely, insight, that enables scholars and leaders alike to inquire in a more holistic way into the causes of the problems and dilemmas that—left unsolved—will continue to cause organizational dysfunction.
Understood thusly, leadership and its practice in organizations involves more. Because leaders make judgments for which they bear personal responsibility and that must withstand public scrutiny, leadership is an ethical practice as well.
The concept of “practice” is central to Aristotelian ethics. One need not be a professional ethicist to engage in practice because, as a human being reflects upon a desired good—a virtue—this person not only practices ethics but also is becoming an ethicist. As MacIntyre (1998) notes in his study of Aristotelian ethics, this “plain person” is a rational being whose concern is for the good. It is not necessary, he argues, for this person in the course of one’s personal, familial, or social life to study Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in order to seek the good and to achieve it. In fact, “one inescapably discovers oneself as a being in norm-governed direction towards goals which are thereby recognized as goods” (1958, pp. 138-139).
That’s fine and good for the “plain person.” But, leaders are quite rightly held to a higher standard. The good these human beings seek—leadership decorum evidencing itself in professional virtue—requires initiation into leadership. According to MacIntyre,
It is through initiation into the ordered relationships of some particular practice or practices, through education into the skills and virtues which it or they require, and through an understanding of the relationship of those skills and virtues to the achievement of the goods internal to that practice or those practices that we first find application in everyday life (p. 140).
As an ethical practice, leadership is learned by doing and by reflecting on what one is doing in concert with others, not being taught by experts about what to look for in an organization as well as how to think about what successful leaders do in practice episodes. As MacIntyre puts it, “through a process of learning, making mistakes, correcting those mistakes and so moving towards the achievement of excellence, the individual comes to understand her or himself as in via, in the middle of a journey” (p. 140). That journey—consonant with Aristotle’s perspective and Lonergan’s wheel—is developmental in nature, with one very crucial caveat. The leader must be careful not confuse one’s institution with one’s practice (Knight, 1996, p. 889).
For example, an organization is an institution but leadership is a practice. The institution makes practice possible. However, institutions and their officials can become interested in money, power, and status—what MacIntyre calls goods external to practice—while practice requires cooperation—again, what MacIntyre calls goods internal to practice. The issue is for leaders to practice virtue, for example, to be just, to be courageous, and to be honest, by actively resisting the institution’s encroaching and corrupting power (as cited in Knight, 1996, p. 889). Yes, there always will be an inevitable tension between the goods internal to and the goods external to practice. Yet, at the same time, organizations should serve practice and their leaders should honor internal goods more than external goods, however necessary those external goods are to practice.
That’s all well and good. However, truth suggests otherwise, namely, that an opposite rationale guides many organizations, a rationale emphasizing a corporate bureaucracy and management style wherein leadership is “a mere technique, not a practice with goods internal to itself,” and the organization functions as and institution where the “goods of effectiveness” are more highly prized than the “goods of excellence” (as cited in Knight, 1996, p. 891). The pernicious outcome of this rationale is that experts teach aspiring leaders what to look for in their organization and how to think about what successful leaders think about. This approach to training leads aspiring leaders to view their work as a job undertaken primarily to acquire external goods rather than as a practice whose rewards are primarily internal to the work.
Given this reverse rationale and how pervasive it is in organizations, what can be done?
Regarding leadership as an ethical practice in the Aristotelian sense would provide a first step because aspiring leaders would not be trained to engage their organizations in change at the macro level, for example, endeavoring to change the organizational system. Instead, aspiring leaders would be challenged to seek the good, to prize the goods of excellence, and to view their work as a practice whose rewards are primarily internal to the work. This approach to training would buttress aspiring leaders against the onslaught of forces they will have to confront and contend with once they engage in actual leadership practice.
Building on this, engaging aspiring leaders in the practice of building learning organizations (DiBella & Nevis, 1998)—which function as communities of practice in the Aristotelian (1958c) sense by promoting the common good and responsibility for it—is a second step. Of course, this requires the development of political acumen but not in the sense that leaders would “defend the rationality, ideals, creativity and cooperative care for common goods of practices against institutional corruption and managerial manipulation, and to uphold internal goods of excellence against external goods and claims of effectiveness” (Knight, 1996, p. 895).
What is needed is a more refined approach for thinking about leadership and its successful practice, one capable of sparking the power of insight in leaders to inquire beyond what is known in practice episodes and into what is knowable. Then, by inquiring more independently and creatively into the causes not simply of problematic situations but, more substantively, into the causes of those dilemmas that threaten to impede organizations from achieving their purposes, leaders will become more comfortable grappling with the values conflicts at the heart of the dilemmas. In this way, tomorrow’s leaders will transform their role as leaders into an ethical practice as they set about solving the “issues” at the root of the “problems” emerging in their organizations (McWhinney, 1992; McWhinney et al., 1997).
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