Social Construction of Leadership

Conventional contingency accounts of leadership suggest that accurate accounts of the context are a critical element of the decision-making apparatus but such accounts appear incapable of explaining the decisions of those engaged. An alternative model is developed that adapts the Tame and Wicked problem analysis of Retell and Webber, in association with Edition’s typology of compliance, to propose an alternative analysis that is rooted in social constructivist approaches.

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This is then applied to three asymmetric case studies which suggest that decision-makers are much more active in the constitution of the context than conventional contingency theories allow, and that a persuasive rendition of the context then legitimates a particular form of action that often elates to the decision-maker’s preferred mode of engagement, rather than what ‘the situation’ apparently demands. In effect, the context is reconstructed as a political arena not a scientific laboratory.

ABSTRACT KEYWORDS contingency leadership problems social constructivism war 1467 1468 Human Relations 58(11) Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them. (Attributed to Laurence J. Peter) Introduction The assumption that successful leaders are those who respond most appropriately to the demands of the specific situation is commonplace. When all is calm successful leaders can afford to relax, seek a consensus and make collective decisions at a leisurely pace.

But when a crisis occurs the successful leader must become decisive, demonstrate a ruthless ability to focus on the problem and to ignore the siren calls of the skeptics and the cynics. O Shakespeare put it rather more eloquently: In peace there’s nothing s a man As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blob Socio ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, conjure u blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage. Henry V, Act Ill Sc hat that crisis might be seems to vary considerably, indeed, whether a situation ‘a crisis’ is necessarily the appropriate response seems to d less on what the situation allegedly ‘is’ and more on how that situation handled most advantageously – or least disadvantageously – by the el For example, the recent deaths of as many as 1000 Shih pilgrims on a northern Baghdad heading towards the Academia mosque, seems to caused by rumors of a suicide bomber in their midst. In retrospect, a to deny that there was a ‘crisis’ and that everyone should move off the an orderly and controlled manner might have limited the casualties.

T deny that a suicide bomber is indeed a terrible threat, but rather it is that how we respond to particular situations is not determined by that 1 Similarly, when the share price drops it might be interpreted by stock as a crisis – but it may be that the CEO and the board would rather De situation as ‘unstable’ or ‘a restructuring or whatever it is that calms t of the stockholder and persuades him or her to hold on to their share that the situation either does or should determine leadership Grind The social construction of ‘leadership’ 1469 ‘”C is captured dramatically in Ibsen play, An enemy of the people, in w apparent contamination of the town’s new public baths pushes Dry The Scotchman, the town’s medical officer, to report his fears to his broth mayor, Peter Scotchman.

However, closure of the baths would bring if ruin to the town so the mayor resists, generates community support f the baths open, and declares his brother ‘an enemy of the people’. Us of morality and interests is, of course, at the root of many conflicts in organization but we should not take from this the assumption that into prevail over morality in most cases. Indeed, as Dustman’s (1996) The folly clearly demonstrates, leaders often pursue policies that run quit o their interests – even if they often claim (wrongly) that they had no Partly this is because leaders lust after power, partly it is because lead corrupted by power, and partly it is because to admit an error is Dee than to persist down the wrong path.

As Dutchmen laments in her able it is as if we are unable to learn from our experiences. Or, to use Same Coleridge vision as she does: ‘If men could learn from history, what I it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the behind us’ (quoted in Dutchmen, 1996:383). And if we look at some of history’s most effectively bloodthirsty leaders it becomes clear that the resort to violence often tends not to relate to the situational threats to power but rather to the ideological motivation of the leader to order wide-scale killing irrespective of an threat.

So, for example, the resort to the guillotine in the French terror did not relate to levels of anxiety about their power on the part of the revolutionaries but rather their ideological predisposition to execute as many of the nobility as possible. Similarly, the resort to executions by Lenin and the Bolsheviks ring the Russian civil war was more to do with eliminating class enemies than those who threatened the fledging state (Mitchell, 2004). What interests me here is not strictly the question of ethical – or unethical – leadership but the processes through which decision-makers persuade their followers, and perhaps themselves, that a certain kind of action is required.

This focus on the decision-makers might suggest a return to Traipsed leadership theories which despite Goodwill’s (1948, 1974) critical demolitions, continue to invest significant in the role of character (Covey, 1990; Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; and Yuk, 2005). Such approaches might well look for the explanation for the war in Iraq in the personalities of Bush, Blair, Sad and their various advisers and opponents. The latter category, for example, Cindy Sheehan, who held a vigil outside Bush’s ranch in the summer of 2005, was credited with single-handedly invigorating the anti-war 1470 movement in the US – at least until Hurricane Strain arrived (Harris, 2005).

Similarly, many political commentators describe the global political situation in terms of the role of individual politicians (Freedman, 2005; Iredell, 2005; Steins 2005). Others simply report that politicians are the world’s least trusted people, again implying that it is the individual leader that matters not the situation (Whitaker, 2005). Yet there is considerable support for a situational approach, within which even if individual leaders do make a difference, that difference is only marginal in comparison to the influence of more structural features like the economy or religion or political party or social class or gender or any other of the myriad variables on offer (King, 2002).

Leadership theories that eschew the dominant and proactive role of the individual leader in favor of ore social or structural accounts tend to assume that the context or situation should determine how leaders respond, thus in terms of the early contingency theories (Fielder, 1967; House & Desert, 1 974), situation X requires leadership X to ensure an appropriate response. More recent developments in contingency theory, for all their more sophisticated accumulation of significant and independent variables, still reproduce this assumption that the ‘correct’ response is determined by the correct analysis of the situation. For example, Needle and Dustman’s (1997) Congruence Model suggests that the three primary inputs to he system are the environment, the resources available and the history of the organization.

But, to take the latter case first, an organization’s history is seldom uncontested and often, as Rollins and Hussars (2000) suggest in their analysis of the history of Academy, a resource for reconstructing the pa to fit the needs of the present. As to the resources available to an organization it was clear to the Allies in 1 940 that they had more than enough resources t defeat any German invasion; unfortunately the latter did not agree with the ‘objective’ analysis of the comparative resources (May, 2000). As to the role o environment in determining what leaders should do, we only have to cousin the differing positions taken by leaders on the issue of global warming to an that, once again, the environment is not some objective variable that deter a response but rather an ‘issue’ to be constituted into a whole variety of ‘problems’ or ‘irrelevances’.

In effect, I am suggesting that contingency theory whatever their complexities – and there is little more complex than House’s (1996) reformulation of his Path-Goal theory with its multiplicity of variables premised upon an essentialist notion of the context: in other words, that we ender the context or situation transparent through scientific analysis. How I suggest that this is a naive assumption because it underestimates the ext which the context or situation is actively constructed by the leader, leaders, or decision-makers. In effect, leadership involves 1471 the social construction of the context that both legitimates a particular form action and constitutes the world in the process.

If that rendering of the count is successful – for there are usually contending and competing renditions – the newly constituted context then limits the alternatives available such that hose involved begin to act differently. Or to put it another way, we might begin to consider not what is the situation, but how it is situated. Shifting the focus from noun to verb facilitates the reintroduction of the proactive role leadership in the construction of context, not in the sense that individual lea are independent agents, able to manipulate the world at will, as in Careless ‘Great Man’ theory, but in the sense that the context is not independent of human agency, and cannot be objectively assessed in a scientific form. Socio constructionist accounts are not new; indeed the early roots can be traced t

Skunk’s (1962) work on scientific paradigms, to C. Wright Mill’s (1959) work o the vocabularies of motive and to the seminal work of Berger and Lackawanna The social construction of reality (1966). However, the recent theoretical developments of the work are best approached through the works of Burr (2 and Green (1999), and their application to leadership can be seen in the wow of Grind (2001), and So¶strand et al. (2001). The critical elements – and there now many different forms of social constructionist or constructivism (Greg Green, 2003) – are that what counts as ‘true’, as ‘objective’ and as ‘fact’ are t exult of contending accounts of ‘reality’.

That implies that ‘reality’ is construct through language and, in turn, since language is a social phenomenon, the account of reality which prevails is often both a temporary and a collective phenomenon. In other words, the ‘truth’, for example about Sadism’s weep of mass destruction (WIND) in Iraq, is not a direct reflection of some objective facts that are undeniable, nor merely a figment of some fetid imagination, b rather the consequence of the temporary ability of particular groups to peers themselves and others that WIND did (or did not) exist. In contrast, the failed attempt by different groups to deny the existence of WIND rendered their account subordinate and facilitated the invasion of Iraq.

The failure of the p war searchers to discover WIND does not, however, simply mean that despite the falsehoods the result was an invasion and hence the temporary nature o the persuasive account is all that matters in any pragmatic sense. Rather, it implies that we will probably never know whether there ever were WIND, or amount of chemicals or biological elements actually COUnts as WIND. In short the book is never closed but permanently open to conversation, just as review f, say, Winston Churchill, are never finally agreed but always open to differed renderings and potential inversions. The results of this kind of approach are knowledge – and what 1472 counts as true – is regarded as the property of particular communities and thus knowledge is never neutral, divorced from ideology.

In what follows I develop the model with regard to its role in the understanding of problems facing leaders and then I apply it to three cases: first a short review of the BRB Spar controversy; second a short illustration of its utility as an account of the Cuban Missile Crisis; and third a rather longer case that applies the model to contemporary rather than historical issues: in this case the War on Terror in To reiterate the point, my argument, in short, is that contingency theories the are premised on securing independent and objective accounts of the context situation, leader and followers – essentialist approaches – are fundamentally flawed and we should pay much more attention to the role of leaders and decision-makers in the construction of contexts that legitimates their intend executed actions and accounts. Problems, power and uncertainty

Much of the writing in the field of leadership research is grounded in a typo that distinguishes between Leadership and Management as different forms of authority – that is legitimate power in Weeper’s conception – with leadership tending to embody longer time periods, a more strategic perspective, and a requirement to resolve novel problems (Britton et al. , 2004; Galilean, 1977). In most cases the leader or manager is charged with solving the problem that faces them, the only difference tends to relate to the analysis of the situation Another way to put this is that the division is rooted partly in the context: management is the equivalent of d©j vi (seen this before), whereas lead is the equivalent of vi JDK© (never seen this before) (Wick, 1993). If this is then the manager is simply required to engage the requisite process to rest the problem the last time it emerged.

In contrast, the leader is required to reduce the anxiety of his or her followers who face the unknown by provide innovative answer to the novel problem, rather than rolling out a known p to a previously experienced problem. But the division between Manage Leadership, rooted in the distinction between known and unknown, belies implement of the relationship between problem and response. Oftentimes simple experience of d©j vi does not lend itself to the application of a Trier trusted process because it is really ‘d©j vi all over again’: in effect, the ‘CE process’ has not solved the certain problem. And sometimes the situation i interpreted as too complex and divisive to allow the leader to impose his o 1473 her will upon their followers.

Anyway, is the imposition of a single will upon group of followers leadership or something rather more coercive? Perhaps first thing we need to do is consider a conceptualized typology of problems Management and Leadership, as two forms of authority rooted in the didst between certainty and uncertainty, can be related to Retell and Weeper’s ( typology of Tame and Wicked Problems. A Tame Problem may be complain but is resolvable through nonlinear acts because there is a point where the problem is resolved and it is likely to have occurred before. In other words, there is only a limited degree of uncertainty and thus it is associated with Management.

The manager’s role, therefore, is to provide the appropriate processes to solve the problem. Examples would include: timetabling the always, building a nuclear plant, training the army, planned heart surge wage negotiation – or enacting a tried and trusted policy for eliminating gal terrorism. A Wicked Problem is complex, rather than just complicated, it is intractable, there is no nonlinear solution, moreover, there is no ‘stopping’ it is novel, any apparent ‘solution’ often generates other ‘problems’, and the no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, but there are better or worse alternatives. In words, there is a huge degree of uncertainty involved and thus it is ASCII with Leadership.

The leader’s role with a Wicked Problem is to ask the right questions rather than provide the right answers because the answers may self-evident and will require a collaborative process to make any kind of pr Examples would include: developing a transport strategy, or an energy star or a defense strategy, or a national health system or an industrial relations strategy; and developing a strategy for dealing with global terrorism. This k issue implies that techniques such as Appreciative Enquiry may be apron for Leadership (Coopered & Whitney, 1999). However, not all Wicked Prowl are rooted in complex issues that also embody the opportunity to delay decisions.

For example, as we shall see, President Kennedy’s actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis were often based on asking questions of his civilian assistants that required some time for reflection – despite the pressure fro his military advisers to provide instant answers. Had Kennedy responded to American Hawks we would have seen a third set of problems that fall outside Leadership/Management dichotomy. This third set of problems I will refer t Critical. A Critical Problem, for example, a ‘crisis’, is presented as self-evident nature, as encapsulating very little time for decision-making and action, and s often associated with authoritarianism – Command (Wesson & Kahn, 20 CB. Waters, 2004).

Here there is virtually no uncertainty about what needs t done – at least in the behavior of the Commander, whose role is to take the required decisive action – that is to provide the answer to the problem, 1474 not to engage processes (management) or ask questions (leadership). Of co it may be that the Commander remains privately uncertain about whether the action is appropriate or the presentation of the situation as a crisis is persuasive, but that uncertainty will probably not be apparent to the follow f the Commander. Examples would include the immediate response to: a train crash, a leak of radioactivity from a nuclear plant, a military attack, a h attack, an industrial strike, the loss of employment or a loved one, or a terror attack such as 9/11 or the 7 July bombings in London.

That such ‘situations’ constituted by the participants rather than simply being self-evident is best illustrated by considering the way a situation of ill-defined threat only become a crisis when that threat is defined as such. For example, financial losses rapid and radical losses – do not constitute a ‘crisis’ until the shareholders iced to sell in large numbers, and even then the notion off crisis does no emerge objectively from the activity of selling but at the point at which a ‘crib pronounced by someone significant and becomes accepted as such by sign others. In another intriguing example, the British government under James Callaghan was apparently in farewell in 1979 after Callaghan returned from a economic conference in the West Indies as strikes in the British public service mounted.

Asked how he was going to solve ‘the mounting chaos’ by journals at the airport Callaghan responded ‘I don’t think other people in the world hare the view [that] there is mounting chaos. ‘ But the headlines in the Sun newspaper the following day suggested he had said ‘Crisis – what Crisis? ‘ In case the formal political leader was unable to counter ‘the critical situation’, constituted by the news media, and Labor lost the subsequent general eel 2 Similarly, it would be difficult to state objectively at what point the Battle o Britain became a crisis and when it ceased to be one because that definition rested upon the persuasive rhetoric of various parties involved.

As Every (2 267) suggests, Many of those ‘decisive strategic results’ became clear only wit he end of the war and the process of transforming the Battle into myth. The contemporary evidence suggests that neither side at the time invested the AI conflict with the weight of historical significance that it has borne in the sixty years since it was fought. The links between Command and the military are CLC and may well explain why discussion of non-military leadership has tended t avoid the issue of command or explain it as authoritarian leadership that ma appropriate for the military but not in the civilian world (Wesson & 1475 Kahn, 2002). These three forms of authority – that is legitimate power

Command, Management and Leadership are, in turn, another way of suggests that the role of those responsible for decision-making is charged with finding appropriate Answer, Process and Question to address the problem respective This is not meant as a discrete typology but as a heuristic device to enable us understand why those charged with decision-making sometimes appear to a in ways that others find incomprehensible. Thus am not suggesting that the correct decision-making process lies in the correct analysis of the situation, b that decision-makers tend to legitimate their actions on the basis of a pursues count of the situation. In short, the social construction of the problem legitimates the deployment of a particular form of authority. Moreover, it is o the case that the same individual or group with authority will switch between Command, Management and Leadership roles as they perceive – and consist – the problem as Critical, Tame or Wicked, or even as a single problem that itself shifts across these boundaries.

Nor am I suggesting that different forms of problem construction restrict those in authority to their ‘appropriate’ form power. In other words, Commanders, for example, having defined the problem s critical – do not only have access to coercion but coercion is legitimated by the constituting of the problem as critical in a way that Managers would find more difficult and Leaders would find almost impossible. In turn, Commanded who follow up on their constitution of the problem as Critical by asking follow questions and seeking collaborative progress (attributes of Leaderships) are less likely to be perceived as successful Commanders than those who provide apparent solutions and demand obedience.

That persuasive account of the problem partly rests in the decommissioned access to – and preference for – reticular forms of power, and herein lies the irony of ‘leadership’: it remains most difficult of approaches and one that many decision-makers will try to VA at all costs because it implies that: 1) the leader does not have the answer; 2) the leaders role is to make the followers face up to their responsibilities (often an unpopular task) (Heifers, 1998); 3) that the ‘answer’ to the problem is going take a long time to construct and that it will only ever be ‘more appropriate’ rather than ‘the best’; and 4) that it will require constant effort to maintain. It is far easier, then, to opt either for a Management solution – engaging a tried and rusted process – or a Command solution – enforcing the answer upon followed – some of whom may prefer to be shown ‘the answer’ anyway.

The notion of ‘enforcement’ suggests that we need to consider how different approaches to, and forms of, power fit with this typology of authority, and amongst the most useful for our purposes are Edition’s (1964) 1476 typology of compliance, and One’s distinction between Hard and Soft Power. Nee (2004) has suggested that we should distinguish between power as ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. ‘Soft’, in this context, does not imply weak or fragile but rather the agree of influence derived from legitimacy and the positive attraction of value ‘Hard’ implies traditional concepts of power such as coercion, physical strength, or domination achieved through asymmetric resources rather than ideas. Thus the military tend to operate through ‘hard’ power while political authorities tend to operate through ideological attraction – ‘soft power’.

Of course, these are not discrete categories – the military has to ‘win hearts and minds’ and this can only be through ‘soft power’ while politicians may need to authorize coercion – hard power. Indeed, as Nee (2004: 1) recognizes, ‘The Cold War was on with a strategy of containment that used soft power along with hard pope If we return to some of the early modern theorists on power, like Baccarat and Bart (1962), Dahl (1961) and Scatterbrained (1960), all summarized in Lake’s (1974) ‘Three Dimensions of Power’, then we can see how the very denied of Soft Power is – in itself and ironically – an example of Soft Power – where certain aspects of the debate are deemed irrelevant and thus subordinated by those in power. In other words, and to adopt One’s terminology again, to deny that any other option exists (e. G.

Soft Power) is itself an ideological claim or example, Soft Power, and not simply a claim to the truth. While Soft Power seems appropriate to Leadership with its requirement for persuasion, debate and ideological attraction, Hard Power clearly fits better with Command, but Management sits awkwardly between the two rooted in both or neither, because coercion is perceived as inappropriate within a free labor contract, while ideological attraction can hardly explain why all employees continue to turn up for work. The limits of using an analysis based on Hard and Soft Power might also be transcended by considering Edition’s (1964) alternative typology. Edition extinguished between Coercive, Calculative and Normative Compliance.

Coerce or physical power was related to total institutions, such as prisons or armies; Calculative Compliance was related to ‘rational’ institutions, such as companies; and Normative Compliance was related to institutions or organizations based o shared values, such as clubs and professional societies. This compliance typology fits well with the typology of problems: Critical Problems are often associated with Coercive Compliance; Tame Problems are associated with Calculative Compliance and Wicked Problems are associated with Normative Compliance Again, none of this is to suggest that we can divide the world up objectively in particular kinds of problems and their associated appropriate authority form but that the very legitimacy of the authority forms is 1477 dependent upon a successful rendition of a phenomenon as a particular kind of problem.

In other words, while contingency theory suggests precisely this (rational) connection between (objective) context (problem) and (objective) leadership style (authority form), I am suggesting here that what COUnts as legitimate authority depends upon a persuasive rendition of the context and recursive display of the appropriate authority style. In other words, success is rooted in persuading followers that the problematic situation is either one a Critical, Tame or Wicked nature and that therefore the appropriate authors form is Command, Management or Leadership in which the role of the decisive maker is to provide the answer, or organize the process or ask the question, respectively.

This typology can be plotted along the relationship between two axes as shown below in Figure 1 with the vertical axis representing increasing uncertainty about the solution to the problem – in the behavior of those n authority – and the horizontal axis representing the increasing need for collaboration in resolving the problem.