|Improving Management/Leadership Practice
Far from indicating that the student knows less about the structure and theory of human organization, this stumbling and bumbling about indicates that students actually know more about the structure and theory of human organization than they did when class first met. Simple explanations no longer adequately describe the organizational reality. Many popular management/leadership books and magazines advocate what now seem to students to be nothing more than child's play. In fact, the hesitation and need to take time to think through the meanings and implications of what students would like to say indicates the acquisition of new insights into the nature of organizations, in general, and the structures and theories that characterize them, in particular.
As students puzzle through various explanations about organizations and their functioning, each explanation raises some new questions and, in turn, these new questions provoke new insights into organizational problems and issues which, of course, now require further investigation. Indeed, now more than ever, students are intellectually aware that organizations are more complex, surprising, deceptive, and ambiguous (Bolman & Deal, 1997) than most people in management/leadership positions are willing to admit. The simple answers that students used to believe were so captivating and which provided compelling ways to deal with organizational problems, students now know won't work to improve management/leadership practice in human organizations, if only because these simple answers do not deal with underlying issues and the self-change that is a necessary precursor to organizational learning and change (Sergiovanni, 1986).
That is not to say, at the conclusion of MPA 8002, that students cannot make a comprehensible statement about management/leadership practice in human organizations. Quite to the contrary, students know that women and men in focal positions in the organizational hierarchy can chart directions and influence decisions about how the organization ought to proceed in light of its organizational reality. But, students also know that any choice to proceed in whatever direction---absent an awareness of how this direction will potentially impact organizational functioning both positively and negatively---is but sheer and utter folly.
Furthermore, students now have first-hand experience that has taught them how any change plan which fails to address the fundamental issues impairing organizational functioning will allow the same old problems to recur time and again...like weeds cropping up in the garden the day after one has picked them. Students also have tempered their zeal a bit for discovering the Holy Grail of organizational theory: an efficacious and infallible organizational change plan, especially one that will leave the people in organizations with the sense that the organization is an artificial person where some nameless and faceless Nobody in an organizational role promulgates impersonal decisions for which no one bears responsibility (Wolgast, 1992).
Lastly, students know that effective management and leadership requires cognitive complexity if one is to objectively survey the expansive horizon embracing organizational reality (Bolman & Deal, 1992; Morgan, 1986) and to puzzle through the maze of alternative pathways to change (McWhinney, 1992). They are aware that effective managerial/leadership practice necessitates an inspiring organizational purpose that will motivate people to engage in a cooperative effort (Barnard,1938/1968; Simon, 1945/1997) and fortitude to do right things (Sergiovanni, 1992).
All this said and done, students are now aware that it is the ethical character of the manager/leader---in Aristotle's (1958) sense of virtue (that is, arete, a tool doing precisely what it is designed to do)---which is the most crucial element in any successful organizational change plan. Effective managers and leaders engage in reflective practice (Sergiovanni, 1986) so that they personally model for others what to imitate---namely, virtue---as they make decisions about how best to translate the organization's purpose into their concrete projects.
No wonder, then, that students now find themselves stopping to think. As the course concludes, students are aware that effective management/leadership practice requires that one stop and think before implementing any proposal for organizational change.
the managerial/leadership reality...
It must be realized that there is nothing that
is more difficult to plan,
Turbulence---not tranquility---characterizes daily life in all human organizations, making management/leadership practice more like "white water rafting" (Vaill, 1989) than sailboating across placid waters. Because human organizations are in such a constant state of flux---reflecting the turbulence characterizing daily human existence---management/leadership practice operates more by "muddling through" problems (Lindblom, 1979) and engaging in "garbage can decision making" (Cohen, March, & Olsen, 1992) than it operates according to rational planning models to plot a trajectory.
In reality, management/leadership decision making is more a matter of making a few decisions that exert maximum leverage (Senge, 1990) than it is of spending one's days, weeks, months, and years poring over data and making many momentous decisions. As Weick (1995) notes, there is no such thing as managerial/leadership control---it is an illusion, he argues---because sensemaking is retrospective (an "after thought") not prospective (a "grand plan"). The issue confronting managers/leaders, then, is to help members of their organization to mine their lode of experience in order that the organization---as a collectivity of human beings---will be capable of figuring out what's going on.
Bolman and Deal (1997) and Morgan (1986) provide a way for managers/leaders to move through the messiness that turbulence encourages in organizations. These theorists offer "frames" and "images" that provide managers/leaders multiple ways to assess and evaluate organizational functioning. At the same time, these theorists remind managers/leaders that their role and function is not to impose the unitary perspectives provided by the individual frames and images upon organizational problems. No, these theorists argue, effective management/leadership practice involves diagnosing the actual case by weaving the various frames and images into multiple scenarios (or diagnoses) that portray organizational functioning and which suggest what should be done if the organization is to better fulfill its purpose. Using multiple frames and images is important if only because the frame a manager/leader overlooks could well be the one that bites (Bolman & Deal, 1997, pp. 379-380). Then, by integrating these scenarios---emphasizing the probable benefits of each and minimizing the potential negative consequences associated with each---effective managers/leaders formulate a diagnostic pathway for organizational decision making and successful organizational change (McWhinney, 1992).
Although the various frames, images, and metaphors describing organizational functioning assist managers/leaders by providing them foresight for decision making and action, only hindsight provides 20/20 vision. Thus, frames, images, and metaphors are no substitute for intuition and decisiveness in practice episodes (Sergiovanni, 1986) or, as Aristotle (1958) would note, for making ethical decisions in actual practice episodes. Instead, effective management/leadership practice requires character, especially a character imbued with courage. This virtue is what provides managers/leaders the power to enter another's antecedents and to consider organizational reality from a unique and different perspective than one's own. Although this is personally challenging and may well require managers/leaders to engage in self change, it is as managers/leaders enter into divergent antecedents that they become capable of engaging others in developing alternative scenarios that offer directions for resolving the underlying issues evidencing themselves in organizational problems.
building, managing, and leading a high performing human organization...
am heavily involved in strategy; the rest is yours to implement.
High performing organizations---those organizations that translate their purpose into concrete projects and evidence the effect of the time-feeling-focus synergy---are a consequence of effective management/leadership practice (Vaill, 1986).
Structurally, high performing organizations are less tightly structured---"coupled"---and more loosely structured than their lesser performing peers (Glassman, 1973; Weick, 1982). From a human resources perspective, these organizations reward innovation and entrepreneurship possessing a "bias for action" (Peters & Waterman, 1992). They do not get mired down in the decision-making process and there is no "paralysis by analysis" here. Politically speaking, high performing organizations have managers/leaders who use organizational politics wisely, working adroitly to transform what could become a series of debilitating streetfights into arenas wherein coalitions of people who possess diverse self-interests work together to advance the organization's purpose and values. This outcome may happen only slowly and perhaps painfully but---looking at the organizational context over time---always surely. Lastly, managers/leaders in high performing organizations make sure that the organization sticks to its purpose and fundamental values. But, these managers/leaders do so by encouraging people to experiment, to discard what doesn't work, and to keep and improve what does work. What these managers/leaders do control is the organizational culture embodied in its purpose and values not its structure and operational policies.
For the most part, then, the matters which managers/leaders must attend to daily, weekly, and monthly are not those having to do with organizational survival in a turbulent environment or with grand schemes to improve organizational functioning. No, the truly important matters are those matters of great social moment to the people in the organization. Effective managers/leaders know that, at the nexus of any human organization, is the human need to do something with one's life that is more permanent and durable than one's mortality (Arendt, 1998). To do this, people are generally willing to compromise their individual self-interests and to engage in a cooperative endeavor (Barnard, 1938/1968; Simon, 1945/1997) by complying with an organization's purpose (Etzioni, 1975). Effective managers/leaders, then, enter into a subtle process of mutual influence, fusing thought, feeling, and action to produce and maintain a cooperative effort in the service of the organization's purpose and its values.
In sum, there is no "one best way" (Taylor, 1911/1967) to achieve this outcome; rather, effective management/leadership involves dealing with situations and contingencies where the managers/leaders balance their concerns for people and task (Blake & Mouton, 1969; 1982; 1985; Hersey, 1984; Hersey & Blanchard, 1969). These managers/leaders focus on a core mission and values that endure longer than any one person. They encourage play through organized and serendipitous rituals that entertain, excite, relax, and equalize members. These managers/leaders anchor the organization's mission and vision in metaphors and symbols that speak powerfully to and remind people of their highest aspirations and goals, which should be the reason they came to the organization in the first place. And, these managers/leaders invent elaborate ceremonies, punctuated by the organization officially and formally recognizing the personal contributions and achievements of its members. These spectacles motivate people to continue cooperating toward an important shared purpose and goals.
some concluding thoughts...
we didn't need a vision right now because I had discovered in my
first ninety days
At the conclusion of MPA 8002, I would like to expand upon Heifetz's (1994) metaphor of "going to the balcony" in order for managers/leaders to get a broader perspective on the scene below. For these purposes, consider a theater critic walking upstairs to take one's seat in the balcony and to partake of an opera as a perhaps fitting way to depict the real work of management/leadership. Sitting in the "critic's seat"---not behind the mahogany desk located in the upstairs Taylorian planning room---requires that one be capable of objectively surveying the opera transpiring on the stage as well as subjectively entering into the opera as well.
The objective dimension---the scientific approach to management/leadership---provides the critic with templates to adjure whether and to what degree the opera meets, surpasses, or fails to meet standards that have been developed over the years and decades. The subjective dimension---the philosophical approach to management/leadership---challenges the critic to use multiple logics simultaneously (i.e., frames, images, metaphors) to evaluate what is transpiring, to consider alternative conceptions, and to wonder about potential or probable pitfalls and possibilities associated with each conception. Whereas the critic has a column to write, managers/leaders have a change plan to develop, one that is based upon an agenda steeped in the organization's purpose and values, one that offers the promise to transform organizational dysfunction into a high performing organization.
As women and men reflect upon the mythic conceptions that endorse and propagandize the allegedly effective practices of managers/leaders and as these women and men then gather to worship upon the altar of the cult of leadership, what they oftentimes forget is that the people they are worshipping are not immortal divinities. Instead, they are mere mortals like the women and men who worship them. Even the most successful and erstwhile managers/leaders meet their end and no longer will they function as managers/leaders. And, in all likelihood, the organization they once managed/led, will continue on as another mere mortal assumes the mantle.
Effective managers/leaders, however, do ordinary things extraordinarily well. These managers/leaders endeavor with all of their might and use levers of power and authority that are theirs to transform impersonal organizations from "sweatshops" and "workplaces" into vibrant and personal "communities" characterized by a shared purpose and values. They deal with paradox, that is, while they require commitment and fidelity to the organization's purpose and values as well as to individual integrity, these managers/leaders are flexible in strategy. They do not "tell and sell" but give others power and authority to make decisions about how best to translate the organization's purpose and values into concrete projects. These managers/leaders view the organization as an evolving, developing, and growing entity---much like an organism---and they endeavor to create and sustain a healthy tension between form and function as the people in the organization foster its ability to adapt to turbulence in the internal and external environments. For these managers/leaders, function defines the form. Their less-effective counterparts use form to define function.
How are effective managers/leaders able to accomplish these ordinary things so extraordinarily well?
I believe that much of their success has to do with character. Ultimately, effective managers/leaders cannot countenance the organizational Nobody who Jackall (1988) describes in such chilling and penetrating detail. Instead, effective managers/leaders possess the courage---that "Golden Mean" located somewhere between fear and confidence (II.7, p. 191)---to engage in learning about themselves and their organizations. Self change enables these managers/leaders to initiate a process of organizational change by confronting the diseases afflicting or debilitating to themselves and their organizations. Courage enables these managers/leaders to overcome their fear by dealing directly with conflict and to bear responsibility for the forces they unleash by so doing. Courage also frees these managers/leaders to allow change and surprise to challenge their thinking and to expand their horizons to integrate diverse perspectives. But, they do not do so with wide-eyed confidence that every idea is a good idea and every proposal is a sure pathway to success.
In contrast, those who don't possess courage dread and fear confrontation and conflict. They stand for everything---rather than standing for something---confident that every point of view is equally meritorious. And perhaps this serves to explain why these women and men cannot manage/lead even the smallest human organization, their own families. Who should---and why do members of Boards of Directors---entrust complex human organizations to such individuals?
Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Aristotle. (1958). The Nicomachean ethics (W. D. Ross, Trans.). In J. D. Kaplan (Ed.), The pocket Aristotle (pp. 158-274). New York: Simon & Schuster.
Barnard, C. I. (1938/1968). The functions of the executive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Blake, R., & Mouton, J. S. (1969). Building a dynamic corporation through grid organizational development. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Blake, R., & Mouton, J. S. (1982, Spring). "A comparative analysis of situationalism and 9,9 management by principle." Organizational Dynamics, pp. 20-43.
Blake, R., & Mouton, J. S. (1985). Managerial grid III. Houston, TX: Gulf Publications.
Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cohen, M. D., March, J. G., & Olsen, J. P. (1992). A garbage can model of organizational choice. Administrative Science Quarterly, 17(1), 1-25.
Etzioni, A. (1975). A comparative analysis of complex organizations. New York: Free Press.
Gerstner, L. (2002). Who says elephants can't dance? New York: HarperCollins.
Glassman, R. B. (1973). Persistence and loose coupling in living systems. Behavioral Science, 18, 83-98.
Hersey, P. (1984). The situational leader. New York: Warner Books.
Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1977). The management of organizational behavior (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Heifetz, R. A. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
Jackall, R. (1988). Moral mazes. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lindblom, C. E. (1979). Still muddling, not yet through. Public Administration Review, 39, 517-526.
Machiavelli, N. (1985). The prince (H. C. Mansfield, Jr., Trans.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
McWhinney, W. (1992). Paths of change: Strategic choices for organizations and society. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Morgan, G. (1986). Images of organization. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Peters, T. J., & Waterman, R. H. (1982). In search of excellence. New York: Harper-Collins.
Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
Sergiovanni, T. J. (1986). Understanding reflective practice. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 1(4), 353-359.
Simon, H. A. (1945/1997). Administrative behavior: A study of decision-making processes in administrative organizations. New York: The Free Press.
Taylor, F. W. (1911/1967). The principles of scientific management. New York: W. W. Norton.
Vaill, P. B. (1986). The purposing of high-performing systems. In T. J. Sergiovanni & J. E. Corbally (Eds.), Leadership and organizational culture (pp. 89-104). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Vaill, P. B. (1989). Managing as a performing art: New ideas for a world of chaotic change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Weick, K. E. (1982). Administering education in loosely coupled schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 63(10), 673-676.
Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Wolgast, E. (1992). Ethics of an artificial person: Lost responsibility in professions and organizations. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.