Archive for the ‘Power’ Category

Survey Results: Which Leader Would You Follow? Which Leader Gets Results?

December 14, 2010 1 comment

This blog summarizes some of the results from an informal online survey that I conducted recently with respondents participating from 22 countries around the world. The survey was intended to help clarify attitudes toward leadership across different generations and geographic cultures. In regard to culture, respondents were asked to indicate in which country they were born, educated, and work. In addition, respondents were asked to identify their gender, and to indicate the business or other sector in which they work. They were also asked to identify the occupational title that most accurately defined their own organizational role.

It is noteworthy perhaps that far more males than females responded to the survey, and that this was the most noticeable in the youngest and the oldest cohorts. In particular, in the youngest cohort, only 15% of respondents were female.

With regard to business or other sector in which respondents worked, most sectors were represented; however, the educational sector had the largest representation at 42%, with the business/professional services sector next largest at 17%.

Respondents in the older cohort all occupied senior roles in their organizations (supervisor on up to CEO).

The following notes  and the table below set out the principal results:

No significant correlations with respect to country of birth, education, or work were identified.

No significant correlations with respect to the type of business or sector in which respondents worked were found, except that respondents working in the Not For Profit sector indicated on questions #1 and #2 a preference for a leader who had gained influence through a designated management position – as is shown in the table, this is contrary to the preferences shown by the majority of respondents.

From the responses to questions #1 and #2 we can see that all cohorts will more readily follow a leader who has gained influence through social interaction rather than from a designated management position. In addition there seems to be a trend corresponding with increasing age to more readily follow a leader who has gained influence through social interaction, and also to believe that such leaders are likely to be most effective in achieving results. This is consistent with research that has shown that most senior leaders spend a lot of time “schmoozing”, and rely on social interaction to influence results and get things done through others. The belief that leaders who gain influence through social interaction are likely to be most effective in achieving results seems less pronounced in the oldest cohort, perhaps because members of this cohort all claimed to hold senior positions themselves and have come to believe in having “power over” (see Blog “Power Over vs Power To ..” at

The responses from question #3 indicate that no generational cohort would choose to follow a leader from their own generation over a leader who shares their values or who displays leadership behaviors important to them. Members of the youngest cohort do slightly favor following a leader who shares their values rather than one demonstrating leadership behaviors important to them, and this is opposite to the preference shown by the two older cohorts.


Power over vs Power to ..

August 27, 2009 2 comments

One may provide all the rational understanding and wherewithal for individuals or communities to accomplish a given objective, but if they don’t want to do it then it won’t happen, or the effort will be half-hearted with predictable results. Surely this simple truth is common knowledge, but much of the organizational managerial establishment still doesn’t get it – having ‘power over’ may make you feel good, but it’s a strategy that starts off suboptimal and goes down hill from there.

Of course organizations do routinely operate under a façade of rationality, but they still over-emphasize the goal-orientation that drives them, and under-value the expressive affective arenas of life; this in spite of a large influx of women into the workforce. In 1973 Gerard Egan wrote “Emotional repression in undoubtedly still a far greater problem than emotional overindulgence” [1]. Some thirty-odd years later this statement is as true as ever in my opinion; society still equates management capability with emotional maturity.

This translates as the control or repression of feelings, and organizations continue to use the word ‘emotional’ in a derogatory sense. Indeed, since managers are often guarded in their feelings, they prefer others to behave in the same way: “It is thought uncivil, rude, unconventional, unwarranted, and even obscene to express feelings toward others.  Emotional insulation parades under such euphemisms as ‘respect for others’ and ‘the dignity of privacy’” [2]; I would go further and include that it parades as ‘respect for our leaders and managers’. Putnum and Mumby quote Lutz who sums it up well: “In addition to treating emotion as a physiological state, people regard emotion as a value-laden concept which is often treated as ‘inappropriate’ for organizational life. In particular, emotional reactions are often seen as ‘disruptive’, ‘illogical’, ‘biased’ and ‘weak’. Emotion, then, becomes a deviation from what is seen as intelligent” [3].

Perhaps there is a fear in leaders and managers that focusing on emotional energy leads to loss of control; this is not the case: “Organizations do not need to abandon instrumental goals, productivity, or rationality to develop alternative modes of discourse. Emphasizing work feelings calls for including what is currently ignored or marginalized in organizational life. Rationality is not an objective, immutable state. Rather it is socially constructed and cast as the dominant mode of organizing. Rationality and technical efficiency, however, should be embedded in a larger system of community and interrelatedness. Perhaps organizations of the future could offer society a new alternative, one shaped by emotionally-connected creativity and mutual understanding as necessary elements for human growth.” [4].

A growing issue is that so much interpersonal communication is no longer face-to-face but ‘second-hand’ – mediated through technology, and “Technology makes it easy to fake authenticity, to manipulate it, to have encounters that seem authentic but are not” [5]; however, although technology such as email seems tailor-made for the powerful elite to hand out ‘the tablets’, social networking tools such as twitter and facebook offer huge opportunities for honest social interaction, and indeed demand a level of emotional honesty for social network trust and acceptance. I am encouraged by the way social networking tools leverage the community-influence of individuals to combat ‘power-over’ e.g. the political struggle in Iran. I also see why there will be resistance to inclusion of such tools in an organization’s inernal-use technology portfolio – but we can hope!

Social systems are highly complex and there is no guarantee that a particular seemingly desirable starting condition, such as the widespread introduction of social networking technology into organizations, will result in a desirable end-state. I do believe though that it would be a step in the right direction, helping to redirect the emotional labor that employees currently expend in subverting authoritarianism and emotional control, and channel it such that they display leadership in, and take personal responsibility for, shaping their own self-organizing system. “Here, ideally, people would give up some of their uniqueness to help build the edifice or common system, rather than clamoring for more power for their system, which then gets experienced as power over other people” [6].

Human nature being what it is, I do not believe that it is possible to build a paradise where an organization will fully succeed in dealing appropriately with all the complexities of the interactions within its social systems. I do believe however that an organization can strike an adequate balance between power-over/rationality/technical efficiency and non-rational factors, such that each field contributes to, and supports the other, in optimizing performance. I contend that by adopting this approach the quality of work, and work life of the organization, would be vastly enhanced over time, and that the ground would be well prepared for general adoption of much needed traits of leadership and personal responsibility at all employee levels. I would like to hear your views – please contact me to further explore these topics.


[1] Egan, G., Face To Face, Brooks/Cole Publishing, Monterey, 1973; pp. 61

[2] Egan, G., Face To Face, Brooks/Cole Publishing, Monterey, 1973; pp. 64

[3] Putnam, L.L., Mumby, D.K., Organizations, Emotion and the Myth of Rationality, in S. Fineman (Ed), Emotion in Organizations, Sage Publications, London, 1993; pp. 36

[4] Putnam, L.L., Mumby, D.K., Organizations, Emotion and the Myth of Rationality, in S. Fineman (Ed), Emotion in Organizations, Sage Publications, London, 1993; pp. 55

[5] Lukensmeyer, C.J., Parlett, M., Power, Change, And Authenticity: A Political And Gestalt Perspective, British Gestalt Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997; pp. 7

[6] Lukensmeyer, C.J., Parlett, M., Power, Change, And Authenticity: A Political And Gestalt Perspective, British Gestalt Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997; pp. 13