Abraham Zaleznik on leadership

In the late 1970s and early 80s, a number of authors joined management. They were looking for a scapegoat to blame the U.S. failure. business to cope with the Japanese commercial invasion. The war cry was to replace leaders with leaders. One of the most contentious critics of management was Harvard Business School professor Abraham Zaleznik. It is time to bring the leadership back from the dead and take its rightful place along with leadership as an essential organizational function. To do this, we need to expose the writings of the violators of the leadership to show what it is that they wrote. In fact, there was nothing wrong with management’s functioning in the 1970s, just the way it was practiced. Zaleznik’s attack is especially important to tackle because the Harvard Business Review is still publishing its original 1977 article (Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?) In their collection of leadership articles, thereby creating the impression that his views are still relevant and up to date when they are actually dangerously outdated and harmful.

Zaleznik takes a case against modern management by comparing it with Fredrick Taylor’s scientific management theories. Given that Taylor died in 1915, it is astonishing that Zaleznik does not demonstrate why it is legitimate to compare Taylor’s views with the way modern leaders function, so his views are questionable before we begin to examine his arguments.

In a book published in 1989, The Managerial Mystique, Zaleznik says that ” what Taylor proposed through his management system lies at the heart of how modern leaders should think and act. The principle is rationality. The goal is efficiency. ” Most importantly, Zaleznik believed that leaders and leaders are different in terms of their personalities. Taking his lead from Taylor, Zaleznik describes leaders as being cold-efficiency machines that “adopt” impersonal, if not passive, attitudes toward goals. ” Further, ” Leaders see themselves as conservators and regulators for an existing order. ” He tells us that ” leaders’ tactics appear flexible: on the one hand, they negotiate and negotiate; on the other hand, they use rewards, punishments and other forms of coercion. ” So leaders are only seemingly flexible, and they are coercive, even manipulative in Zaleznik’s eyes. In his 1977 article, Zaleznik makes exactly the same assertion, saying that: ” … one often hears subordinates characterize leaders as inactive, detached, and manipulative. ”

Zaleznik would have us believe that although leaders seek activity with people, “they maintain a low level of emotional involvement in these relationships.” ‘They apparently also have’ ‘lack of empathy’ ‘. Zaleznik extends the emotional theme of The Managerial Mystique by telling us that leaders ” operate within a narrow spectrum of emotions. This emotional nothingness combined with the awareness of the process leads to the impression that leaders are careless, detached and even manipulative.

It is not clear what evidence Zaleznik has for these damning charges. He seems to do nothing more than extrapolate from Fredrick Taylor’s notion of leadership without ever asking himself whether leadership as a function is committed to Taylor’s characterization of it. Starting with Taylor’s worship of machine-like efficiency, Zaleznik has served all leaders with the same brush at all times.

Zaleznik believes that managers are creative and interested in substance, while managers are only interested in the process – how things are done, not what. For Zaleznik, ” leaders who are more concerned with ideas relate to more intuitive and empathetic ways. ” Leaders are undoubtedly more interested in ideas than how they are implemented, but there is no basis at all to call managers more empathetic than leaders.

Basically, there is no real basis for this personality divide. It is not good enough to say that leaders controlled from the Taylor era until the Japanese invasion showed them. Even if this is historically accurate, there is nothing in this alleged fact that obliges management to operate today in this way. The simple way to get around Zaleznik’s condemnation of leadership is to define it functionally in terms of what purpose it serves, not in terms of how it actually achieves its purpose. This leaves the means of governance completely open.

Leadership versus leadership

An easy way to define leadership and leadership is to say that leaders promote new directions while executives execute existing ones. Additionally, it is widely recognized today that leaders can have vastly different personalities, ranging from quiet, resolute and factual to bubbly, erratic, but inspiring cheerleader types. The whole move to differentiate leaders from leaders along personality boundaries is failing, and it’s time to give up. The truth is that both leaders and leaders can be inspirational, they just have a different focus. An inspirational manager moves us to change direction, while an inspirational manager motivates to work harder. Yes, executives promote efficiency, but that doesn’t have to mean Fredrick Taylor’s mechanic assembly line efficiency. Management is like investing. Effective managers use all resources at their disposal, where they get the best return on that investment. In modern organizations populated by intelligent knowledge workers, this can mean the creation of self-managing teams. In order to get the best return on such talent, modern leaders need to be good coaches, carers and people developers. Of course, they need to measure and monitor performance to know if their deployment of humans pays off, but that does not involve doing it in a cold, mechanical or controlling way.

In conclusion, leadership is as important a function of organizations as leadership, and it is time to cast the views of writers like Abraham Zaleznik who argue otherwise. In addition, questions about their credibility raise the fact that his author is still approved by Harvard Business School.