A Reflection on Leadership Style in Modern Organisations
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A Shift in Focus

In recent times, scholars have shifted the focus of their investigations to effective leadership. The studies (Bennis & Nanus, 2006; Collins, 2001; Kotter & Cohen, 2002; Maccoby, 2003), which have been mostly qualitative, have adopted different methodologies and have come to differing specific conclusions. However, a common theme has been identified; suggesting that effective leadership identifies a vision, establishes standards of performance and indicates a focus and direction for the organisation. Some scholars, including Clifford and Cavanagh (1985), as well as Peters and Austin (Austin & Peters, 1985), show in their research that effective leaders also have the characteristic of being able to effectively communicate a vision, often through the use of symbols. In fact, the use of metaphors in organisational development become commonplace in the early 90s in the U.S., but only more recently has it taken a foothold in Europe, with a number of scholars (Mantere & Sillince, 1988; Mayer-Schoenberger & Oberlechner, 2002) promoting the use of different metaphors through the figurative arts as well as theatre, with focus on the validity of the musical metaphor, in particular, the work done by the director and his orchestra.

Leadership Metaphors

Like the conductor of the orchestra, the leader of the organisation becomes a facilitator who helps performers to achieve a high level of interpretation and style through dialogue, so as to transform an ordinary performance into an extraordinary one, with the aim of bringing out the uniqueness of the product and the distinctive character of the sound. This model, whilst extremely valuable and useful within the context and era in which it was born, seems to be less congruent with today's reality. In fact, nowadays, changes take place at such a fast rate that sometimes it seems that organisations are more preoccupied with composing the musical score, rather than interpreting it correctly. Reaction times are greatly reduced compared to the past; an organisation which only reacts to its leader’s inputs risks response times to market changes which are delayed, therefore undermining competitiveness. This brings us to a number of questions. What happens then, if our leaders do not have the ability, or, due to lack of information, are unable to compose music (do not have the vision) for the rest of the orchestra to perform? How is it possible to unearth the latent talent of the musicians in the orchestra, if the score is not available? And therefore, what are the creative opportunities available for modern day leaders?

Leaders must find the key to be able to operate serenely and effectively in the presence of a high level of uncertainty and ambiguity. I believe we are now gravitating toward a model of leadership, which does not operate on the basis of instructions or specific information, but rather draws its strength from its ability to act effectively on the basis of minimal information; a leader who understands that letting go of control effectively means helping those he leads to become autonomous, according to a model of leadership that resembles coaching more than cognitive education.

Going deeper into the use of metaphors, DePree (1992) in his work entitled Leadership Jazz, as well as Napoli et al. (Napoli, Whiteley, & Johansen, 2005), describe the concept of "organizational jazz" describing the connotation that jazz has with predictability and stability as the tune progresses yet leaves room for uncertainty and improvisation. The question is: what can we learn from the observation of a jazz orchestra, without claiming that this should become a recipe designed to cure all organisational ills, but rather a matter for reflection that can trigger a change in the ways in which we think about leadership? Jazz bands can be viewed as organisations leaned toward innovation and the creation of novelty and are designed, therefore, to maximize learning. Jazz musicians are professionals who operate serenely in a turbulent and chaotic environment, capable of fast, efficient and irreversible decision-making; as musicians, they are highly interdependent in the interpretation of ambiguous information. Similar to jazz musicians, who are capable of playing with minimum structure, many organisations need to learn to work effectively with minimal information.

Apple, Google and Gore (the clothing company famous for its Gore-Tex line of waterproof material) are typical examples of organisations that maximise the contribution of their intellectual capital. Their leaders have the uncanny sensitivity to exert a facilitative style of leadership, a leadership where decisions are co-created with their team, along with collaborators, according to a model that draws its strength from the deep listening skills and enhancement of individual contributions. In particular, Gore has created a system of internal coaching that was founded over twenty years and has helped to ensure the company’s un-contrasted dominance in its market. The mode of operation of these organisations has many similarities to that of jazz orchestras. In fact, jazz musicians constantly absorb the ideas of each other thus opening new avenues to the continuous possibility of transformation, so as to bring out from the unexpected, a new unpredictable direction. The ideas of each member of the orchestra are contextualized and quickly evaluated for their ability to create obstacles or, on the contrary, direct opportunities for the creation of new sounds. The orchestra is therefore capable of adapting to harmony but also to what may appear, to an untrained ear, to be distortion. The fusion of different sounds contributes to the formation of a new harmony that results from the seamless integration and contribution of all participants; it is at this particular point in time that the creative process occurs, resulting from the collective contribution.

Whilst metaphors facilitate the understanding of reality, on the other hand it must be highlighted that these are not in themselves sufficient to provide an overall view of the phenomena. In fact, Hatch in her book ‘The Three Faces of Leadership’ (2004), explains that metaphors can sometimes reveal the similarities between two things, but not their differences. It is therefore wise to recognise the limits of metaphors, since their inappropriate use could create a misleading and simplistic view of reality. Nevertheless, metaphors contribute to the knowledge of organisations and, at least in part, may help us to see more the organisational realities more clearly.

So what is the best leadership style?

In practice - one may wonder - what is the best leadership style for me and more importantly how can I use this leadership style? Answering these questions is not easy, since I believe that no current specific model is superior to others. Being scientifically based, all leadership theories, must necessarily specify their field of action and define the variables to consider. Therefore, leadership approaches integrate and complete each other; they may consider different dimensions, but these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so, in defining the ideal leadership style I believe one should take a multi-theoretical approach, by avoiding the trap of simplistic and reductive eclecticism.

In conclusion, I believe that leadership style should evolve towards one of a facilitative nature with a strong drive towards co-creation. However this requires heavy investment in terms of change but above all requires a cultural evolution; a mental challenge to the assumptions by which we think of leadership, and the figure of the leader. In organisations where it is considered necessary to work without predefined maps, in order to reduce the complexity and uncertainty of the future through more inclusive leadership styles that enhance the important contributions of the various pieces of the orchestra, one will need to reflect on how to move from leadership models where the creed was "let us work together in order to achieve my ideas", to a behavioural model in which decision-making is the result of the inclusion of all voices, including those seemingly dissonant ones, with a view that can be summarised thus "together we create our vision and our future".

Unfortunately many leaders will not easily admit to lacking an answer to the problems and dilemmas of the future. A leader who learns along with his organisation must understand - as evidenced by Randall P. White (2009), an adjunct professor at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, teaching at Duke Corporate Education and at HEC School of Management in Paris - that learning from his mistakes should be exposed as much as learning from his successes; a tenet that I hope to follow in any future positions of leadership. Such behaviour, will presumably stimulate a process of continuous regeneration of knowledge, in order to challenge the status quo and the assumptions that underlie many strategic decisions. I believe that leadership should become the central stimulant for an organisation that learns and maximises the power of knowledge, prompting the organisation to walk confidently into the unknown, to create harmony and integration between cultural values and behaviours, to promote the search for novelty, to ask questions instead of always searching for answers, and to wait - with confidence - for the new leadership model to penetrate deep within the organisation’s employees; more conscious of their ability and more in tune with the corporate culture, resulting in them becoming more effective and guaranteeing a successful future for their organisation.

Dr Beppe Micallef-Trigona
Dr Beppe Micallef-Trigona
Dr Beppe Micallef-Trigona is a Maltese psychiatrist who returned to Malta after working as a consultant psychiatrist with the UK Ministry of Defence (Royal Navy), and previously, as a consultant psychiatrist in the UK National Health Service.

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