Executive Leadership during Organizational Change: A Bi-Cycle Model
Manz, Charles, Bastien, David, Hostager, Todd, Human Resource Planning
This paper develops a process model of executive leadership under conditions of ongoing organizational change. Cases involving top executive leaders in both a business merger and an educational setting are used to illustrate the model. The model, which is based on an analysis of Minnesota Innovation Research Program (MIRP) cases, identifies three leadership perspectives as being especially relevant to effective executive leadership of major change: visionary, participative, and transactional leadership. Our bi-cycle leadership model combines these three perspectives in a single process model that represents the unfolding of executive leadership during significant organizational change.
Effective implementation and management of significant organizational change is an elusive process. The sheer complexity of organizational systems can often lead to unpredictable and detrimental outcomes. For example, in his book on managing strategic change, Tichy (1983) likened organizations to a rope containing three primary strands: a technical, a political, and a cultural strand. The many fibers that make up these larger strands add to the overall complexity of the system. Tichy (1983, 1986) suggests that when significant change occurs within organizational systems, if it is not managed properly, the organization itself, like a rope, can unravel. Furthermore, it has long been recognized that change is often met with considerable resistance from within the changing organization (e.g., Lewin, 1947; Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979). Thus, in addition to the complexity involved in managing organizational change, various opposing elements within the organization will frequently work against the change attempt, actually inviting failure rather than promoting success.
Given the challenges of managing complexity and internal resistance to change, the task of the top executive during the implementation of change can be very difficult indeed. Where significant change in involved, effective leadership, in the sense of the classic distinction between "managers" who pursue maintenance and "leaders" who embrace and facilitate the "new," seems to be required (Zaleznick, 1977). Understanding leadership in this context, though, is quite difficult, at least in part because managers enact their own beliefs about leadership, and action coming from these beliefs may or may not contribute to the success of a change effort. The challenge to understanding executive leadership becomes one of identifying effective leadership behavior in the context of the organizational turbulence stirred up in the change process, and distinguishing that behavior from any preconceived theories of effective leadership held either by the executive leader or the researcher.
Accordingly, we have developed a perspective for understanding the leadership process and executive behavior in the heart of the turbulence involved in organizational change. Our framework is designed to address executive leadership apart from the overall strategic process that initiated the change. We are not interested, for example, in executive leadership in formulating overall organizational development efforts (e.g., Beckhart, 1969). Rather, our purposes are: (1) to identify patterns in the behavior of effective executive leaders during the ongoing implementation of significant organizational change; (2) to discover how those leadership processes unfold over time; and (3) to provide pragmatic prescriptions for executives who face the challenge of leading in the face of significant, ongoing organizational change.
In reviewing the leadership literature, one quickly discovers that there are countless perspectives on leadership. According to one estimate (Terry, 1986), there are currently at least 100 accepted academic definitions of leadership. The definitions, perspectives, and boundaries of conceptualization and investigative approaches have changed both over time and across cultures without necessarily disproving other previous views (cf., Bass, 1981; Yukl, 1981). Rather, each perspective has tended to add a new viewpoint, situation, or set of concrete experiences, while changing the definition of the term "leadership." In the literature relevant to executive leadership in organizational change, however, three dominant themes can be identified: (a) literature focusing on the executive as a visionary (both the development of an organizational vision and the process of expressing it), (b) literature focusing on participation in management and organizational processes by other members (e.g., employees) of the organization, and (c) literature focusing on the transactional exchange process between a leader and a subordinate, both of whom are involved in accomplishing change.
This general perspective on leadership is ultimately descended from Aristotelian thinking. Aristotle, in viewing leadership in a different time and context where face-to-face verbal communication was necessarily the dominant medium, noted that in order to understand the effective exercise of leadership (and perhaps emulate it), three elements must be understood: (a) the credibility or ethos of the leader, (b) the composition and desires of the group (for Aristotle, it was citizens of a city state; for executives, it is employees of an organization), and (c) the idea or vision and its communication (the message). Aristotle concentrated principally on communication of a vision, as have a large number of leadership theorists concentrating on behavioral, "leader-oriented" theories. Theories of charismatic leadership (e.g., House, 1976) and transformational leadership (e.g., Bass, 1981; Roberts, 1985), for example, often lead to discussions of the special acts of special people. Communication and interaction characterize these special acts for contemporary researchers as they did for Aristotle over 2000 years ago.
The credibility of the leader is the first important issue from this perspective. Effective leaders, in this way of thinking, are individuals of superior authority, of superior knowledge, prescience, and, most importantly, of superior ethical and personal character (Bettinghaus, 1980). Leaders who are seen to put the interests of the group or organization before their own personal interests, for example, may be seen as superior ethically, and therefore more effective leaders. Recent work in this perspective asserts that followers become somehow personally attached to (idolize) the leader and the leader's vision, which usually involves the belief that the leader acts in the followers' best interests (Roberts, 1985).
The groups which Aristotle was interested in influencing, and today's contemporary organizations share some interesting parallels. First, many modern organizations are as large or larger than the citizen groups democratically governing Greek city states. Second, there was a kind of sociocultural unity and solidarity in the Aristotelian context that can be seen in modern organizations. Of course, there are also many meaningful differences. Aristotle and all subsequent theorists in this general stream stressed the importance of leaders understanding the beliefs, needs, desires, fears, attitudes, preferences, sense of morality, etc., of the group to be led.
Aristotle and other theorists discuss both the content of the idea or vision and the details of its communication. Howell (1982) and Bormann (1972), for instance, assert that …
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Publication information: Article title: Executive Leadership during Organizational Change: A Bi-Cycle Model. Contributors: Manz, Charles - Author, Bastien, David - Author, Hostager, Todd - Author. Journal title: Human Resource Planning. Volume: 14. Issue: 4 Publication date: December 1991. Page number: 275+. © 1999 Human Resource Planning Society. COPYRIGHT 1991 Gale Group.
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