Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Defining Leadership

Increasingly, leadership is being viewed as a process whereby a change agent intentionally mobilizes people, ideas, meaning and resources towards achieving a purpose. This process is looked upon as beneficial when the objective relates to the common good of society. Leadership is key in helping a state or organization transition from a bad equilibrium (status quo) to a good equilibrium (desired state). 

The following components can be identified as being central to the phenomenon (in the literature over the past 65 years) –
  •  Leadership is a process - It is not merely a trait or a characteristic based inside a leader, but it is a series of interactions that occur between the leader and the followers. 
  • leadership involves influence - How does a leader affect the decisions of the followers? 
  • leadership occurs in groups - These can be small focus groups, management teams, or large political organizations. 
  • leadership involves common goals - This notion brings with it a certain amount of ethical responsibility. Research shows that the condition of mutuality and common goals reduces the possibility that the leader will act in unethical ways. This also improves that chances of leaders and followers working together towards a common good. 

The Connective Leadership Model is one such framework within which to understand leadership behaviors.

The Connective Leadership Model

Figure 1: The Connective Model of Leadership by Jean Lipman-Blumen
The Connective Leadership Model describes three general categories or sets of behaviors used by individuals for achieving their objectives. The model consists of three major sets of behavioral styles: direct, relational, and instrumental. Leaders who prefer the direct set prefer to handle their own tasks individually and directly – emphasizing mastery, competition, and power. People who prefer to work on group tasks or help others to attain their goals emphasize the relational set. The relational set addresses the issues inherent in the many forms of interdependence – collaboration, contribution, and vicariousness (supporting or facilitating other’s accomplishments) characterize this style. People who emphasize the instrumental set tend to use themselves and others as instruments towards community goals. The instrumental set involves three styles – personal, social, and entrusting. People who use the instrumental achieving style treat everything; themselves, their relationships, situations, and resources as instruments towards their goals.
 In summation, the direct achieving style has been the approach that has been traditionally adopted by leaders. In this style, the leader masters his/her own tasks while achieving progress towards the goal. In the relational style, the leader achieves progress by contributing to team-members tasks. In the instrumental style, the leader maximizes interactions between individual team members and empowers them to work collectively towards success.
Connective leaders understand that today’s issues require one to be able to utilize all the different behavioral styles in order to succeed. Lipman-Blumen notes that their conception of leadership reaches beyond the direct styles favored by traditional leaders, and also goes beyond competition and collaboration. It involves the ability and willingness of these leaders to call upon ethical instrumental action.[1] In many post-conflict and post-authoritarian situations, the economic condition of citizens is often so fragile that they do not have the time or inclination for civic activism. In this situation, where there is absence of a strong civil society, connective leaders can play a positive role in establishing the basic rules and tools of democracy, as well as strengthening the society and the economy. The leaders studied in this paper are connective leaders to various degrees and have utilized the different achieving styles to meet their goals.

[1] See Jean Lipman-Blumen, Connective leadership: Managing in a changing world, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996, pp 226-231.

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