Leadership Challenges in Research/sponsored Program Administration

Article excerpt

COMMENTARY

Just as the sender, receiver, message and their interactions are essential elements in effective communication, the leader, follower, situation and their interactions are critical elements in contemporary organizations. Research and sponsored program administrators often are middle managers in complex organizations. Therefore, they need to be effective leaders and effective followers simultaneously.

One Saga Corp. executive was quoted saying, "Most people fail in jobs because they lack followership skills" (Newstrom & Davis, 1993). The authors describe desirable "followership" behaviors as: (a) not competing with the leader for the limelight; (b) being a loyal and supportive team player; (c) not being a "yes" person, automatically agreeing with anything; (d) acting as the devil's advocate by asking penetrating questions; (e) questioning to gain understanding of the leader's ideas, values, and actions; and (f) anticipating potential problems and preventing them. Many of us in sponsored program administration probably reached middle management positions because we consciously or unconsciously developed these followership skills. As we rise in the ranks of our organization, we should not abandon these abilities; rather, we should teach effective followership skills to our subordinates by example in our interactions with superiors.

Our leadership role becomes increasingly important to future success, both for us professionally and for our respective organizations. As we progress through our organization's management structure, the number of our followers and the spheres of our influence will most certainly increase, bringing new demands on our leadership.

Thousands of articles and texts have addressed the topic of effective leadership. However, classical theories should still be considered by today's leaders to "harness human energy to organizational requirements," as Douglas McGregor wrote in 1957 (Boone & Bowen, 1987). These include Theory X (the carrot-and-stick approach to managing workers) and Theory Y (participatory management, emphasizing worker and organization shared interests). The autocratic management views associated with Theory X are still encountered today in more conservative organizations and fields. Management approaches related to McGregor's Theory Y, such as those outlined by Peter Drucker in Management By Objectives (Boone & Bowen, 1987), still prevail in both the public and private sectors.

Organizations also operate under what has been called Theory Z, whose roots are in John Deming's management behavior theory and Japanese management techniques, popularized in the United States by William Ouchi and others in the 1980s (Grant & Hoover, 1994; Boone & Bowen, 1987). Among other things, Theory Z recommends long-term and holistic valuing of workers as keys to high-quality productivity. The Total Quality Management programs popular in public and private organizations in recent years found roots in Deming and Ouchi and Theory Z.

A number of social science researchers have attempted to determine the critical traits of effective leaders. Newstrom and Davis (1993), for example, list: (a) high personal drive, (b) desire to lead, (c) personal integrity, (d) self-confidence, (e) analytical ability/sound judgment, (f) knowledge of organization/industry/technology, (g) charisma, (h) creativity, and (i) flexibility. Edwin Ghiselli, in an examination of 300 business managers, found the following traits were just as prominent: (a) supervisory ability/ability to delegate; (b) occupational achievement and motivation to achieve; (c) intelligence, reasoning, judgment; (d) decisiveness and problem solving; (e) self-assurance; and (f) initiative, self-starting, and self-directed (Grant & Hoover, 1994). In a treatise on public administration, Grant and Hoover state that different research has shown related traits as important, including: (a) persistence, (b) mental energy, (c) integrity, (d) persuasiveness, (e) ability to handle people, (f) self-confidence, (g) mental and physical endurance, (h) enthusiasm, (i) sense of responsibility, and (j) desire to achieve. …