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EXPLORING GREAT LEADERSHIPA Practical Look from the Inside
By R. Lynn Wilson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 R. Lynn Wilson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGreat Leadership Defined
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When most people hear the term great leader, they visualize heads of state, famous philosophers, religious leaders, and organizational CEOs. Do you have to be an organization's CEO to be a great leader? There is a very simple answer to that question, and that answer is "absolutely not." Do you have to at least be in management to be a great leader? The answer to that question is the same as the first: "absolutely not."
So how can managers and especially non-managers be great leaders when they are not the Big Kahuna? One of the most enjoyable and exciting aspects of my job was to watch employees excel and demonstrate great leadership. So what defines a great leader? What distinguishes great leaders from the rest of the pack? Is it in the eyes of the beholder? Are there distinguishing traits?
We will begin answering the above questions about great leaders and great leadership by looking at Abraham H. Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. His theory was published in Psychological Review in a 1943 paper titled "A Theory of Human Motivation." For those of you who are not familiar with Maslow, he was a respected research psychologist who died in 1970 and the first of my personal heroes in this book. His theory has been widely published in organizational-management and academic textbooks for many years. It is astonishing that Maslow published his theory sixty-nine years ago and it is still applicable today. Actually, basic human nature changes ever so little, if at all, over time. I have included his 1943 paper in Appendix A, and it is essential that you read it before proceeding.
Now that you are back and have read the paper, you know that Maslow divides human needs into the following five categories in ascending order: physiological needs, safety needs, love needs, esteem needs, and the need for self-actualization. I am amazed by the numerous interpretations, variations, and adaptations on his theory I have seen, and interestingly, none of them have compromised his basic premises.
It is also interesting that all the versions I have ever seen use a pyramid to demonstrate Maslow's hierarchy of needs though his paper is only narrative and has no pyramid. That was a surprise to me, since the pyramid is the theory's universal symbol. There is one adaptation of Maslow's theory to organizations that I have always thought of as simple and relevant. It was published in a book written by Andrew D. Szilagyi (1981, 408–411), titled Management and Performance. Szilagyi is a professor of management at the University of Houston's C. T. Bauer College of Business. Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Szilagyi's interpretation for organizational adaption are shown in Figure 1 and will be used for my discussion of Maslow's theory and its importance to great leadership.
Before we proceed, I want to make a very important point: never confuse success with great leadership. If we use income, wealth, position, or status to define a successful person, then I have seen many successful people who were not great leaders. In fact, I would rank the majority of them as less-than-great leaders, and I would put some of them in the category of terrible leaders. In contrast, I have seen many great leaders who were not successful in terms of income, wealth, position, or status. How can that be? As we discuss in this chapter, it will become clear. Now back to Maslow's theory to get a basis for defining great leaders and great leadership.
At the bottom of the pyramid in Figure 1 is physiological needs, which includes such things as adequate base salary and a reasonably comfortable physical working environment. The next level is safety needs, including safe working conditions, fringe benefits, general salary increases, and job security. It has been my experience that without having these two need levels satisfied, employees will actively look for a job at another organization that will meet those needs. This applies to management and non-management alike. You can find exceptions, but you sure don't want those people working in your organization.
One can debate which of these basic needs is most important. Common wisdom would say it depends upon the person and his or her individual needs, but I have found that base salary— including base fringe benefits and job security—are paramount. If you can't meet your basic financial needs, you have no option but to do something else or be consumed by emotionally charged financial problems. We're not talking about buying a new Ferrari or a second home on the beach. We are talking about basic food, shelter, and other subsistence.
Fear of losing one's job is also a strong motivator to leave, but that is a slightly different animal. It is not usually as immediate in causing an employee to leave as base salary and benefits, but it certainly can be. Lack of job security can result in many undesirable behaviors on the part of an employee, even from the best of employees. I have seen employees who fear job loss spend much, if not all, of their time exhibiting behavior, sometimes irrationally, that gets in the way of their usual good job performance. This is done in an effort to mitigate their fear and/or push attention away from themselves.
One very important aspect of job security is that it is not always black and white and is much more subjective than salary and benefits. Your boss or some other legitimate authority in the organization telling you your job is in jeopardy due to job performance or downsizing is not subjective, but many times employees have an unfounded fear because of rumors or comments made by less legitimate sources. Later in the book, we will talk about the importance of good and accurate communication, which is critical in mitigating unfounded fear. Fear is one of the most (if it is not the most) destructive force in the workplace.
The next level is love needs and is identified by Szilagyi as quality of supervision, compatible work group, and professional friendships. One should never underestimate the power of these relationships. Good employees will not stay if these needs are not met. They will leave as soon as they find a job that meets the lower two need levels and there is reasonable assurance that their new jobs will provide for their needs at this level and potentially beyond. Satisfying needs at this level speaks not only to the quality of managerial leadership but to the dynamics involved with informal leadership discussed later in this chapter. The significance of quality of supervision, compatible work groups, and professional friendships will become increasingly more evident as you continue reading and as learned attributes for great leadership are presented in practice.
Before we continue, I want to point out something very important regarding people ascending up the pyramid. Maslow's paper says that, generally speaking, the need levels are in ascending order and that each level has to be satisfied before an individual can move to the next. In regard to self- actualization, his paper says that, often if not always, there is a restlessness to achieve more and become all one can be if all other needs are satisfied. But, as you read in the third section of his paper, he says that human behavior is more complicated than that and exceptions need to be recognized. He continues, saying that the impact of each level and importance of the ascending order can be different for different people.
It has been my experience that the line between the love needs level and the next level (esteem needs) is a significant line for many people with regard to their motivational needs. I have seen many employees in different job positions appear to be content while staying with the three levels I have already described and not ascend across the line to the next two levels. I say appear because my statement is an unscientific observation. The only exception to that hypothesis that I have observed, and it is a very big exception, is the need for peer/supervisory recognition that is in the level of esteem needs.
I want to share with you one of my most memorable and teachable experiences that is a case in point regarding the need for peer/supervisory recognition. I had a series of physical therapy treatments at the hospital campus where my office was located. One of the people who helped me was a physical therapy assistant who was a rather outgoing and assertive person. After my treatments ended, I ran into her at a retirement party for another employee. She enjoyed interacting with me at this event in front of others; I enjoyed interacting with her as well.
Because of the size of our organization, we had two annual employee-recognition events for years of service. One of them was that evening. We held our recognition events in a downtown hotel ballroom with a nice dinner and a ceremony in which each honoree walked across the stage to be recognized and receive a gift as his or her name was called. Long-term employees who had been in the organization beyond a specified number of years were given bouquets of flowers when their names were called and then escorted up to the stage. Those who had been there the longest received roses. This physical therapy employee was to be honored that evening and asked me in her assertive style what she would get at the recognition event. I told her she would get a bouquet of roses. She did not get roses. As she crossed the stage that night and I congratulated her, she quietly reminded me that I had told her she would get roses.
The next day, one of my vice presidents told me that he had seen her. He said she was disappointed and upset that I had told her she would get roses and then she got other flowers. I had made a mistake. An employee had to be there longer than she had been to get roses. The vice president asked me if we should get her a bouquet of roses and send them to her. I felt bad about my mistake, but I also felt it would be wrong to get her a bouquet of roses when others in her category of length of service didn't; it would also detract from those who had. I suggested he get her one red rose and tell her that I had made a mistake and I was sorry. In retrospect, I should have taken the rose to her and apologized in person.
By serendipity, I saw her in the hallway the next day; I rarely did. She came up to me and, with tears in her eyes, told me that one red rose meant more to her than any bouquet of roses ever could. I was taken aback by the emotion shown by this woman, who had always appeared to be so self-confident and assertive. Wow! This story is a great example of how showing someone that you genuinely care about her or him (recognition) is so powerful. It is also a great example of my comment in the introduction about the fragility of people. More on that topic will come in the next chapter.
It is my observation that many employees who have the talent and the overt or dormant desire to move to the top two levels do so through encouragement and an enabling environment created by great leadership. There are employees who have the talent and maybe some element of desire, but who are better off where they are, without ascending to those top two levels.
Here is another story. We were working on a major project and had established teams to work on its specific aspects. It was our usual practice to put management and non-management employees on teams who did the work and knew the processes. When the teams working on this particular project finished their work, each project team was asked to report its findings in person to senior management. This was not our usual practice, but due to the importance and scope of the work, we thought this was a good way for senior management to recognize and thank the teams.
Each team picked one person to report its findings. When one particular team reported to us, it had picked an employee with whom I was familiar. I was surprised that she had been picked. She was a nice person but very shy and worked in a job that some would say did not require significant talent and responsibility. I make that last characterization for lack of a better one. I think all jobs require significant talent and responsibility, but there are those who would not agree with me. I was told that the employee was very nervous about giving the report but agreed to do it.
Well, she nailed it! She came to the meeting very nicely dressed for her role, gave a great report, and got tremendous applause from our senior management team. You could tell she was very proud of herself, as was her team. She had a lot more talent than she had shown in the past but was satisfied with where she was in the organization and continued to work in the position in which she was comfortable. We were told after the meeting that she hadn't slept well the night before and had actually thrown up more than once. You would never have known it by her presentation. I often wonder how far people can go and love it if they are comfortable doing so. It is far better, however, to settle in where you are comfortable and happy. Happiness far outweighs achieving more and then being miserable outside your comfort level.
Now we are going to move on to the top two levels: esteem needs and the need for self-actualization. We will look at them together, because they are very interrelated. I have already pointed out the importance of peer/ supervisory recognition. Let's add to that need the importance of enjoying the work, having responsibility, being challenged, advancing in the organization, achieving personally, being creative, and being rewarded monetarily.
I have a couple of disagreements with Szilagyi at these two levels. I left out job title in my above list of needs, because an employee's job title is a part of pride of accomplishment; job title by itself is not a motivator. We had a policy that no job titles were on anyone's identification badge. People outside and inside the organization only needed to know that we were employees; they had no need to know what our positions were. People inside the organization who needed to know who we were already knew. If it was important for people inside the organization to display their titles, they did not belong in my organization. The only exception to this policy was for those people in direct clinical care who had specific licenses for their jobs. We thought patients should know who they were (i.e., RNs, or registered nurses).
My list also referred to being rewarded monetarily versus the use of merit pay increases. I believe in paying excellent salaries and monetary rewards, but I do not believe in merit pay. I feel it is destructive. We will discuss that issue at length in chapter 7.
I was always amazed (you will see in this book that I'm amazed a lot) by how the same employees always volunteered for projects that resulted in extra work for them, while others never volunteered or didn't volunteer very often. Those employees who volunteered often never seemed to get enough and always enjoyed it. They were satisfying esteem needs and self-actualization. They only needed the freedom and support to do it.
In his paper, Maslow (1943) said,
Even if all these needs are satisfied [referring to his hierarchy up to self-actualization], we may still often if not always expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.
This term, first coined by Kurt Goldstein, is being used in this paper in a much more specific and limited fashion. It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.
The employees Maslow is referring to here are the so-called stars in the organization. I will explain stars in chapter 6.
We just did a cursory review of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Szilagyi's interpretation for organizational application. Are you ready to answer the big questions for this chapter: What defines a great leader? How do you identify him or her? Whether it has hit you yet or not, you are. As important as the answers are, I feel we should have spectacular fireworks or at least a drum-roll to introduce the answer. Obviously, neither is very practical within the confines of a book, so I will leave one or both of those introductions to your imagination.
Here is the answer to both questions plain and simple: Great leaders are leaders who have the ability to satisfy Maslow's hierarchy of needs for those around them and channel that powerful energy toward successfully accomplishing the goals and purpose of the organization in an ethical manner. And, because great leaders do that, people will give them all they've got, follow them over the proverbial cliff, take "bullets" for them, and hold them up on a pedestal for all to see. It's as simple as that, and great leadership organizations are those that are led by great leaders who infuse a corporate culture of great leadership into the organization.
Remember I said that success does not always equate to great leadership and vice versa? This is what I was talking about. No matter how successful you are in regard to income, wealth, position, or status, if you don't have the ability to lead people in the manner described in this chapter, you are not a great leader.
Why is the distinction of great leadership versus successful leadership so important? As you read this book, you will discover that truly successful organizations are those led by great leaders and with great leadership practices pervasive throughout. We are going to get very philosophical. If I asked all of you reading this book what you feel is most important in life, I would probably get a plethora of answers. The most important thing in life is one's personal relationships with others. Even if you don't agree with that, I think you will have to agree that relationships are, at the very least, somewhere at the top of your list. I commented in the introduction that this book is not for everyone, and I don't think you would still be reading this book if that were not true for you.
In order for this book to be meaningful, one genuinely has to care about people and his or her relationships with them. I remember studying transactional analysis (TA) in college. TA was based upon a theory of psychology introduced in the 1950s by a psychiatrist named Eric Berne. Even though I don't agree with everything in Berne's TA theory, I always have thought that TA provides a great method to look at human behavior in a very simple way.
Excerpted from EXPLORING GREAT LEADERSHIP by R. Lynn Wilson Copyright © 2012 by R. Lynn Wilson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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