Home Organizational Psychology Leadership Organizational Consultation XXX: Leadership and the Appreciative Perspective

Organizational Consultation XXX: Leadership and the Appreciative Perspective

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Organizational Context and 21st Century Leadership

The contextual model of leadership and the culture of diversity move us closer to appreciative leadership than do any of the other three cultures or styles of leadership associated with these three cultures. However, even the contextual leadership theorists provide an inadequate model when we take into account the complex, unpredictable and turbulent organizational environments that I have identified in this set of essays. We can’t even find consistency regarding contexts within which a specific leadership style does or doesn’t work. At certain times, a particular kind of leader will make a difference, provided she is in the right place and time. At other times, this same leader will be ineffective, even if the situation very closely resembles that which existed at the point of effectiveness. Sometimes Leader X is influential. At other times she is not.

An old Zen saying suggests that we can never step into the same river, for the water that was there when we first entered the river (and the pattern of water flow in the river) is not the same the second or third time we enter the river. Flexibility in style, therefore, must be supplemented by a commitment to learning. As Argyris, Schon and Senge have observed, we are effective leaders not because we avoid making mistakes, but because we learn from our mistakes.v Yet, if appreciative leadership is to be effective, something more is needed. An appreciative model of leadership must be based, in addition, on the assumption that history is the unfolding of simultaneous or sequential elements of both reason and irrationality.

Organizational Order and Chaos

Organizations are all about the interplay between reason and irrationality, order and chaos.vi At one level, there is orderliness in the enactment of effective leadership. The contextual leadership theorists, such as Hershey and Blanchard, define specific criteria regarding group and individual maturation of subordinates or the nature of tasks being performed when determining appropriate leadership styles. At another level, there is nothing but chaos and unpredictability.

Appropriate styles of leadership and, more importantly, the effectiveness of a specific leader can neither be predicted nor fully understood after the fact. The characterization of any phenomenon in an organization, such as worker morale, is often influenced more by the nature of the measuring procedure or tool being used than by the phenomenon itself.vii Similarly, in the assessment of leadership effectiveness, the relative success of a leader is often determined less by the leader being studied than by the level at which the analysis of leadership is being conducted and by the nature of the effectiveness criteria being used. Certain criteria and certain levels of analysis produce clear conclusions about the nature of effective leadership; other criteria and levels of analysis produce either contradictory conclusions or a muddle of images and impressions about effective leadership.

At one level, the behavior of virtually any leader is understandable and even predictable. At another level, the behavior of this same leader is inexplicable and unpredictable. At the global level, for example, we can examine the behavior of one of a past archenemy, Saddam Hussein, and a current one, Vladimir Putin. Saddam has been described, understandably, as a mad man, who was willing to sacrifice his people and his country for a vision of regional domination that was neither appropriate nor achievable. His behavior exemplifies chaotic, irrational leadership. Putin, on the other hand, is often described as a cold blooded, carefully planning (though often stubborn) ex-KGB operative. Like Saddam, Putin hangs on (and engaged in aggression) on behalf of a vision of regional domination (a vision from the past)

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