Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blog Services Update: Customized e-mail updates

In keeping with our commitment to make this blog an immensely useful and valuable resource we will be launching a new service.

Within the next couple of days, you will be given the opportunity to sign up to receive a quarterly report containing the most up-to-date research on the subjects of your choice pertaining to various HR related topics. These reports will be compilations of academic research as well as the results of various research studies being conducted by HR-Meter and others.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Trait-Based Leadership VS. Situation-Based Leadership (Part 3 of 3)

The problem that such a conception of leadership comes up against is that the five “traits” outlined above are vague enough to be mapped onto almost any historical “Leader” while at the same time too vague to be taken into a board room. It is one thing to say that a leader must pursue their purpose with passion and quite another thing to somehow convince a room full of people that it is in their best interest, as well as in the company’s best interest, to pursue one man’s purpose with passion. However, it may seem a bit presumptuous to simply claim that the five “traits” that we have just mentioned are, in fact, not necessary for a good leader, for, as history has shown us, most every great “leader” that comes to mind has exemplified a few, if not all of these “traits”. How then to we reconcile these opposing claims: that leadership is situation based and that leadership is trait based.

Well, what it seems to really come down to is that in order to be a successful leader, one must somehow synthesize these competing views of leadership. That is, a good leader must survey a situation and come to an understanding of the unique situational factors that form it. Once one has assessed the situational factors that determine any given context, it becomes possible to employ the “traits” necessary to earn the trust and commitment of the individuals involved in a particular situation. In other words, being able to accurately identify the situational factors present in any given context gives a leader insight into how best to approach a problem. So, for example, when a situation involves a group of people, being able to seamlessly integrate oneself into the group’s identity is of absolute importance. Once, this is accomplished, it is far easier to get the commitment of the group and so to exercise any number of “traits”, be it pursuing the group’s purpose with passion or practicing solid values. Nevertheless, whatever the situation may be, a person with a set stock of “leadership traits” will not be the least bit affective if he or she does not correctly identify the situational factors that undergird every situation.

Bottom line: if you can correctly identify the situational factors in any situation, then learning what the correct action to take in such a situation is no different that learning a new skill. That’s not to say that a little charisma and self-discipline won’t prove useful either.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Trait-Based Leadership VS. Situation-Based Leadership (Part 2 of 3)

In a paper titled “The New Psychology of Leadership”, authors Stephen Reicher, Alexander Haslam, and Michael Platow, attempt to explain why what we commonly think of as effective leadership is, in fact, the result of something more akin to a situation-based theory of leadership.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s scholars began to embrace the idea that, what we have referred to as the “Born Leader” is nothing more than a myth. Rather, “scholars began to favor ‘contingency models,’ which focus on the context in which leaders operate.” (Reicher 2) In their paper, Stephen Reicher, Alexander Haslam and Michael Platow, explain that, since the research of Henri Tajfel and John C. Turner in the 1970’s, which subsequently led to Tajfel’s coining of the term “social identity”, leadership theories have begun to focus more on the “Leader’s” ability to induce followers to see themselves as part of a group, to embrace a kind of social identity that is akin not only to the other group members conception of self but also to the business’s identity as a whole. In other words, “[s]ocial identities make group behavior possible: they enable us to reach consensus on what matters to us, to coordinate our actions with others and to strive for shared goals.” (Reicher 3)

Given that group behavior hinges on social identities, the task of a good leader is to identify with that social identity, “rather than assuming absolute authority”, and our leader does this by coming to “understand the values and opinions of [his or her] followers” which, in turn, enables “a productive dialogue with [subordinates] about what the group embodies and stands for and thus how it should act.” (Reicher 1) In this sense, it seems as though it is not necessary for a good leader to possess a fixed set of traits given that “the most desirable traits depend on the nature of the group being led.” (Reicher 2) In other words, what is necessary for an individual to be a strong leader is dependant entirely on the situation.

While “The New Psychology of Leadership” focuses specifically on a leader’s ability to become “one of the gang” it does emphasize the necessity for a very definite shift from “Charisma to Consensus”, from a stock set of “Leadership traits” to a sensitivity for the situational factors necessary for the formation of a strong group identity.

Yet there are many that still believe that leadership is defined by how well an individual demonstrates any number of “traits”. For example, last year, in his short op-ed piece in U.S. News and World Report, Bill George claimed that there are, in fact, five “traits” that identify an “authentic leader”. Those “traits”, according to George, are as follows:

  • Pursuing their purpose with passion.
  • Practicing solid values.
  • Leading with their heart as well as their head.
  • Establishing connected relationships.
  • Demonstrating self-discipline.

Bill George goes on to clarify that “[t]o be effective leaders of people, authentic leaders must first discover the purpose of their leadership. If they don’t, they are at the mercy of their egos and narcissistic impulses… The values of authentic leaders are shaped by their personal beliefs and developed through introspection, consultation with others, and years of experience.” (George 1)

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

(Just For Fun) 10 Ways to Make Your Boss Love You!

I came accross this on Lisa Rosendahl's blog and thought that it was fun and worth a pass-along.

10 Ways to Make Your Boss Love You

I like #8.


Trait-Based Leadership VS. Situation-Based Leadership (Part 1 of 3)

In reaction to "Understanding the Nature of Talent", I have decided to embark on a 3 part adventure.

There must, of course, be a difference between trait-based leadership and situation-based leadership. While the difference between the two may seem, at once, strikingly obvious, a recognition as to which “type” of leadership is the most appropriate and, ultimately, most beneficial for the development of “business” is, in the same moment, less than clear.

History offers us innumerable examples of both trait-based leadership and situation-based leadership. During the industrial revolution, as hoards of former farmers flocked to the cities, we see, really for the first time in our country’s history, an overwhelming demand for strong leadership across nearly every industry. The need for professional “team leaders” was, of course, augmented by high demand for the fast, efficient, as well as quality controlled, production of nearly everything imaginable for the growth of a nation, including war materials. As soldiers returned from the Second World War, it became clear that there was, in fact, a substantial difference between the leadership practices that were employed by the Pattons, Grants and Washingtons (the pseudo-mythical conception of the Born Leader) and the Henry Fords and Rockefellers who had spurred success not so much by infiltrating the hearts and minds of those under them, but by recognizing the significance of various aspects of their own contemporary matrix and capitalizing on them.

Whether the successes of the Henry Fords and the Rockefellers were enough to demystify our view of leadership and transform it from a trait-based to a situation-based conception remains to be seen. Even today, the myth of the Born Leader, is used to explain the successes of our nation’s greatest Presidents, corporate titans and the like. Nevertheless, there seems, in recent years, to have been the beginnings of a “shift” toward the conception of a leader as someone in possession of a number of skills, learned skills, and so, the conception of leadership as something that can be developed in anyone willing to learn.

To Be Continued...

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Nature of Talent

I thought that I should bring our reader's attention to a new, short paper by John H. Fleming, PhD., and Jim Asplund of Gallup, Inc.

The paper:

"Understanding the Nature of Talent: Managers must distinguish what’s innate in their employees (talent) from what can be changed or acquired (knowledge and skills)".

by John H. Fleming, Ph.D., and Jim Asplund
Excerpted from
Human Sigma: Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter (Gallup Press, November 2007)

The paper can be found here.

In it, Dr. Fleming and Mr. Asplund seek to draw a distinction and sharp contrast between "forced stack-rankings / purging" and a more reliable system for hiring employees based on a greater understanding of "talents".