Academic journal article Journal of Positive Management

Empowering Leadership: Embracing Endogenous Dynamics

Academic journal article Journal of Positive Management

Empowering Leadership: Embracing Endogenous Dynamics

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Some leaders encourage bottom-up processes that result in seemingly chaotic interactions but ultimately deliver success. This happens often with social entrepreneurs, i.e., individuals who are addressing pressing but seemingly insurmountable social problems and, even so, achieving an immense and durable impact with modest investment (Bornstein, 1998; Kouzes and Posner, 2008; Praszkier and Nowak, 2012). It was found that they pursue change by facilitating a bottom-up process that empowers people, communities and societies; they find success by building and augmenting social capital (Praszkier and Nowak, 2012; Zablocka and Praszkier, 2012). Moreover, it was observed that this process leads to new (emergent) entities on a higher level, through interactions between agents on a lower level (dynamics that suggest complexity theory might be a suitable theoretical framework (Uhl-Bien and Russ, 2007; Uhl-Bien et al., 2007; Stacey, 2007). Two of these social entrepreneurs were even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Mohammad Yunus in 2006 (banking for the poor and microcredits [1]) and Kailash Satyarthi in 2014 (global movement against child labor [2]).

Similarly, we noticed opportunities for bottom-up processes while observing the business arena. Take for example R. Semler, leader of the multibillion-dollar Brazilian company Semco [3]. Semler said, "The purpose of work is not to make money. The purpose of work is to make the workers feel good about life". He introduced a working environment with no job titles, no written policies, no HR department, not even a headquarters. All employees are "associates" who vote for their managers, evaluate them, and publicly post their evaluations. Meetings are voluntary, and two seats on the board are open to the first employees who show up (Maresco and York, 2005; Zakomurnaya, 2007 [4]). With its unusual management style, annual revenue of more than $240 million and more than 3.000 workers, Semco is a company whose success is undeniably intriguing.

When we looked at Semco and the company Morning Star, the largest tomato processor on the planet with 400 full-time employees producing over $700 million a year in revenues, where no one has a boss, there are no titles and no promotions, employees negotiate responsibilities with their peers, and compensation decisions are peer-based (Hamel, 2011; Wartzman, 2012), we found certain similarities in leadership style.

We identified several characteristics of the kind of leadership that, operating in a complex environment, is initiating endogenous processes that empower individuals while harnessing bottom-up dynamics. These companies enable a blend of diverse causations, especially through upward (Tourish and Robson, 2003; Tourish, 2005) and horizontal communication (Talbot, 2004). They're introducing leadership as a collective practice (leaderful organizations, Raelin, 2003; 2011), and creating a culture of distributed (Gronn, 2002; Bolden, 2011) or shared (Carson et al., 2007) leadership.

We will document, through literature analysis and case studies, that these kinds of leaders are focused more on building preconditions for the change to become endogenous than on controlling the flow of activity. This approach, called Empowering Leadership (Ahearne et al., 2005; Arnold et al., 2000), is characterized by efforts to engage, endow and empower people ("associates") to take co-responsibility and co-ownership. It seems aligned with a saying attributed to Senge [5], which asserts that the way to success is to activate the self-energizing commitment and energy of people around changes that they deeply care about (Senge, 1999).

The departure point will be an overview of traditional leadership definitions and styles. Next, we will characterize the phenomenon of complexity, and its twelve pivotal dimensions, followed by three diverse case studies. This will lead to a delineation of the Empowering Leadership style, which is based on endogenous processes, and to four exemplary preconditions that engender endogenous change. …

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