Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Leaders as Catalysts for Organizational Change: How Popular Press Business Books Address This Topic

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Leaders as Catalysts for Organizational Change: How Popular Press Business Books Address This Topic

Article excerpt


The pioneering management theorist Peter F. Drucker (1954) first raised the question "What is our business--and what should it be?" To Drucker, the aforementioned "is almost always a difficult question which can be answered only after hard thinking and studying. And the right answer is usually anything but obvious." A tidal wave of responses in the management literature to it and other such compelling questions followed. Drucker was a pioneering business philosopher whose writings helped show the promise of management as a field of research. In a study of management gurus' gurus, (Prusak & Davenport, 2003), where "guru" was defined as one of the 200 most influential living management thinkers and business intellectuals, and "gurus' guru was defined as a guru most chosen by the 200 gurus, Drucker headed the gurus' guru list, and was fourth on the original gurus' list. In many ways, he paved the way for others whose writings helped distinguish leadership from management by definition.

Although there are many definitions of leadership, James MacGregor Burns (1978) in his classic b-book Leadership provides a definition which is still relevant: "Leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values, various economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers." Apparently Burns perceived the ideal leader as "transformational." Appealing to the followers' values and a higher vision, transformational leaders encourage the followers to exert themselves in the service of achieving that vision. By encouraging employees to become innovative problem solvers, transformational leaders are more positively oriented toward, and more likely to initiate change. (Bass, 1985; Waldman, Javidan, & Varella, 2004; and Bass & Riggio, 2006).

While transformational leadership has been positively related to employees' commitment to the organization (Bass & Riggio, 2006; Koh, Steers, & Terborg, 1995); and to the leader (Kark & Shamir, 2002), the literature has not clearly demonstrated the impact of leadership on organizational change (Burke, 2002). However, evidence seems to indicate that leaders affect organizational performance in general; therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that it is likely that these leaders affect organizational change in particular (Burke, 2002). Although leadership theories still need a more clear alignment with the study of change management, Herold, Fedor, Caldwell & Liu's study (2008) suggests that transformational leadership plays an important role and is positively associated with individuals' commitment to specific change projects.

Kotter (1988) was among the first to provide a leadership definition that distinguishes it from management. He argues management is a process, the function of which produces consistent results; leadership, however, and by contrast, is a process whose function is change. Leadership involves a vision for the future and a strategy for achieving that vision.

Another contributor to the early literature, Bennis (1994) identified differences between managing change and leading change by stating that the leader (compared to the manager) innovates vs. administers, challenges the status quo vs. accepts the status quo, and asks why, not how and when. "Leaders foster change and create an environment where change is the norm whereas managers stabilize the organization and ensure that the changes are well implemented." (Moore, 2003).

While "... it is clear that, in the field of organizational change, there is no one agreed theory of change and that there is unlikely to be one," there are competing theories of change that arise from differing underlying metaphors which are often unknown and unacknowledged by the change agents using them." (Dunphy, 1996). …

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