When I saw the textbook title for this course, The Art and Science of Leadership, I chuckled a little bit. My assumptions before this course was that leadership was a field difficult to research, in terms of what makes a leader successful and what styles of leadership lead to that success. In my mind, it seemed that manipulation and an ability to think coldly about a situation would be valued leadership traits, and that the field could not really be a science due to the difficulty of gathering data. In that respect, the course was an eye opener but also affirmed one of my assumptions. As we’ve seen with various theories, there is a scientific aspect to leadership; however data is admittedly difficult to gather and categorize, as a large aspect of successful leadership revolves around keeping followers satisfied, and as the followers are human, they could all have different needs. Also, many of the assessments we’ve seen were self-assessments and thus inherently biased.
In all honesty, at first glance I thought the study of leadership was a bit of hogwash, and wasn’t planning on taking the course at all. Then I started thinking about my personal leadership experience, and the importance of leadership knowledge and skills in the corporate world, and our society at large. Remembering personal leadership inadequacies in the past, and seeing ironic representations of leadership in the media and society, encouraged me to pursue the study of leadership. For instance, with the New England Patriots, a lot of media outside of New England focused on Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady as the catalysts for the Patriots recent success, yet those two individuals (as well as the rest of the team) repeatedly placed responsibility on the whole team, rather than just a few individuals. Personally, the Patriots style of self-management and teamwork is the ideal system of working and should be replicated by other teams and businesses.
Through this course, I’ve realized that such a team oriented environment does not rise up out of nowhere, rather it is instilled, enforced, and supported by a few team-leaders. For example, Tom Brady’s willingness and ability to spread the football around, and his teammates ability to catch those footballs, enforces and supports the team environment. On the other side, Bill Bellichick’s game plans, also enforce the idea of spreading the football around, while also alternating focus to ensure that the team wins. This system of sharing the work and credit instills in everyone that in order to succeed the team must come first, and all personal achievements will fall into place later.
All of the new and unique ideas on how to lead raised during the course also showed me that there is an artistic and creative side to leadership. For instance, a charismatic or visionary leader must utilize their creative sides to think of strategies to instill change in organizations. Though some aspects of charismatic leadership can be learned, a portion of this style depends on the personalities or current situations of individuals. Someone could have a very low self-esteem, but could portray themselves as being very self-confident. Yet a high energy or enthusiasm is tough to fake, someone must believe in their mission and believe they are carrying it out correctly to exhibit true enthusiasm. Finding a task that you truly believe in is the artistic aspect of leadership.
From prior classes, I feel I had a strong understanding of traits, thus the most beneficial aspects of the course were the ones which focused on theories and strategies for leaders to implement, such as the path-goal theory, LPC model, cognitive resource theory, and other contingency models. The chapters on participative management and the use of teams was also very applicable to my current situation, and many situations I will encounter, as the corporate world has greatly undertaken the use of teams as an efficient and cost-cutting measure. There is a lot of power in teams, to unite workers and to share resources; I’ve already begun using delegation and empowerment at my job, albeit in a limited role as I do not have as much power to delegate and empower as my manager and others further up the hierarchy of the organization.
I also particularly enjoyed the chapter on upper management, as it provided an in-depth perspective on the often secretive world of executives. This course has definitely shown me that the study of leadership is in fact both a science and an art, and that relying on both (rather than relying on purely one side of leadership) leads to success more often. I have a lot more respect now for successful leaders and am able to better pick up on the details that lead to successful leaders. A few days ago State Street (my employer) announced their earnings, which were following by an internal speech by our top executives. Though I’ve listened to Ron Logue’s speeches before and laughed at some of his humorous comments, I truly understood this time why his charisma and empathy led him to his current position as CEO of State Street. He’s also displayed knowledge of our global environment, while also understanding that employees fear globalization. To this extent he continuously re-assures employees that they will continue having jobs at State Street, but that we must also instill a performance culture and expand globally.
Another change this course has inspired me to is to institute an environmental employee group at State Street. I’ve discussed this idea with coworkers, and they were all supportive, but the example of Anderson at Interface and the use of all employees’ ideas has truly inspired me to pursue this idea to fruition.
The above post is my response to discussion assignment 7A for the School of Management 697PP: Perspectives on Leadership course at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.