Studying Subtle Acts of Leadership

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    • 00:08

      Hello, my name is Tom Karp, and I'ma professor in leadership at Kristiana UniversityCollege in Norway.That's why the accent, I'm a Norwegian.I'm here to talk about a researchproject we did some years ago, documented in the article"Studying Subtle Acts of Leadership"published in the journal Leadership

    • 00:28

      about three years ago.What motivated me to investigate the topic?I mean, the topic of the article is obviously leadership.The term has assumed many definitions.An article I read some years ago counted as many as 350.So leadership is a slippery and complex concept,

    • 00:48

      and they seem to have invented many, many termsto deal with it.Warren Bennis wrote this in 1959 and it is, to some degree,still true today.But many scholars agree that leadership somehowreflects an orientation to influencesocial interaction in order to achieve common objectives.

    • 01:09

      So we are talking about influence.Leadership is influence.And it is the effects of the acts donethat identify leadership, not by the fact of their appointment.A nominated leader may therefore beone of several persons with possibilitiesto influence a group.Leadership is consequently understood

    • 01:30

      as interact processes where people influence one another.This dynamic is an interplay between the activities,historical events, expectations for the future,and the perceived need to exercise leadershipin any given situation.My motivation to study leadershipcomes from a long and steady interest in the subject.

    • 01:51

      Before becoming an academic, I usedto do leadership and have a long career as a top levelleader behind me.From this experience, I discoveredthat leadership as written about in many booksis not always what you experience and seewhen people do leadership.Since the old Greek philosophers [INAUDIBLE]have been prescribing what leaders should do and be like,

    • 02:14

      and the world leaders seem to have a built in normativeaspect to it.But it is my experience from both doing and studyingleadership that it is the difference between rhetoricand reality, between the normative ideals and reality.[Difference Between Normative Ideals and Reality]It is not always easy to spot the leader that have visions,motivate people, see them, create alignment,

    • 02:35

      and so forth as prescribed by popular theorists.So our aim in this research projectwas to study leadership in reality, and from this ascribewhat leaders actually do.In doing so, we would build on emerging and growingleadership fields, that's critical managementstudies as a last practice orientedapproach is to do that.

    • 02:57

      This is a wide array of approachesthat all have common critical approach to the someoneheroically, they're always knowing what to do.Instead, we pay more attention to the processes between peopleand what people actually do.Most of us to broaden the understanding of leadershipand on this basis explore acts on leadership.

    • 03:21

      What assumptions did we make before embarkingon this project?I obviously assumed that some kind of influence processeswere in play where leaders and of followers interacted.And that we were able to study and deconstruct these.I mean, if leadership is to influence human interaction,what then constitutes operational acts of leadership

    • 03:42

      on a daily basis in order to achieve such influencing?What are the acts and how to describe what leaders actuallydo?We decided not to focus so much on the supplyside of leadership theory.Instead, we focused on what I would call the demand side.What kind of acts from leaders had some kind of influence

    • 04:03

      on all the people?[Describe What Leaders Actually Do] Basically,we were looking for followership in some form.What makes people follow somebody?From evolutionary psychology, we knowthat leadership and followership are complementary strategies.And I think any investigation or leadership alsomust conceal the followership.

    • 04:24

      For a leader to lead, somebody needs to follow.The two need to be studied together.And what makes people follow somebody else?We know that humans have their lot of ways of copingwith difficult situations.One way they manage uncertaintiesis to identify and support leaderswho confirm their worldview, their beliefs, their needs,

    • 04:47

      and make them feel they are part of somethinglarger than themselves.We also know from studies on authoritythat people are obedient to somebodythey perceive some kind of authority,not necessarily as a functional position,but from repeated acts, skills, and character that have grantedthem this authority.

    • 05:08

      From theories of social perception,we know that people follow peoplethat match characteristics of peoplein a group, considered vital for leading the group to success.Social identity theory also confirms this.The effectiveness of the leader is a functionof the followership thinking that the leader possessesthe prototypical properties of the group.

    • 05:30

      Also, attribution theory tells usabout the ways in which people attributethe behavior of others or themselves to something else.[Part of something larger than ourselves,obedient to authority, matching and prototyping]One of the most important attribution followersmake about a leader is his or her legitimacy.Leaders earn credits from followers over timeby demonstrating that he or she caters

    • 05:52

      for the group when needed, assists themin achieving their objectives.Therefore, I assume that, in this project,we will be able to describe and observe acts of leadershipby looking for followership.What research method did we use in out data collection

    • 06:13

      and how did we analyze the data?We had what I would have called a explorative designsite in our research since we wantedto study people in their everyday organizations.This article is based on two fieldstudies and actual research into organizationsfrom 2009 to 2011.

    • 06:34

      In addition to myself, I mobilizeda team of seven people.We used mixed research methods and basically wedid two things.One, we observed people, and two, we talked to people.We attended meetings and were flieson the wall in work environments.Obviously, our presence could have impacted the interaction

    • 06:57

      and the findings.But we observed processes of leadership trainingwith middle and senior manager, before the change process,and we participated in workshops and meetings.In addition to the two organizations,we had interviews with leaders in other organizationsto crosscheck some of our findings.All together, data research team talked to

    • 07:19

      and observed 50 leaders on and off over a two year period.Some they followed for a day, some for many days,even for weeks.Altogether, we had 150 days of observation.In addition, we have the informal chatswith employees working for the leaders we observed.When observing, we were anthropologists,

    • 07:40

      we were looking for cues but still kept an open mind.With all of our investigations, wehad conversations with the people involved.We had, however, a pragmatic approach to our study.The empirical work was fairly openand they focused on descriptive accounts of leadershipsituations, and when they talked to people,

    • 08:01

      people were asked to talk about the situationswhere they thought acts or leadership somehowwere displayed.Our method was both our strength and our weakness.It allowed an open agenda, but the lack of structurewas a challenge when we analyzed the data.Also, in order not to disturb the flow of events,

    • 08:21

      we didn't use tape recorders or transcripts,but took notes when interesting situations or conversationsemerged, or shortly after when we had the time to recap.This is perhaps also our weakness,but allowed us to be in contact with situationswhen they happened.Basically, we analyzed data by comparing notes.

    • 08:44

      At the end of each week, we compared notesand were looking for patterns and relationships.We used a template analysis, but did notuse a strict justification of themes, neitherin the underlying taxonomy as we did notwant to be bound by defined frameworks.It should also be said that the conduct of studies

    • 09:04

      have contextual limitations.They were conducted on leaders in global companies,but operating in Norway, thereby beingsensitive to cultural and structural boundaryconditions typical to Scandinavian countries.So, what did we find?The summary of the key findings are as follows.

    • 09:27

      Number one, leadership is a seriesof interaction processes, and it's not onlya function of the person in charge,but are a result of the dynamic interactionof the individual and collective willsmobilized to meet various needs.[Finding-- leadership is dependent upon abilitiesto deal with uncertainty, opposition, and challenges]It was not our aim to propose leadership qualities,

    • 09:48

      but our findings indicate that acts of leadershipseem to be more dependent upon abilityto deal with uncertainty, opposition,and resistance than the mainstreamfocus on visioning and motivational effortsas drivers of leadership.The dynamic of power and situationsentail people being willing to authorize someone

    • 10:10

      to assume leadership in situations where leadershipis required, meaning that leadership must somehowbe taken and earned by those assuming the responsibility.The research also suggests that the acts experience highlightpsychoanalytical insight.People tend to have a need for leadership in situations

    • 10:32

      where they feel instability or uncertainty.They need to project all the uncertainties or frustrationsonto others in order to free themselvesnot only from stressful situations,but also from everyday operational incidents.So leadership is taken where people in organizations

    • 10:53

      are in need of leadership.When leadership was taken and earned,it was not what people did that made a difference,but that they did do something in the situation they were in.They didn't freeze, try to escape from the situation,or try to find a plan to follow.They did something there and then the best they could.

    • 11:15

      Leadership was liable nor was it whom peoplewere that made the difference.They did not have any specific leader traits.Also, leadership is a process that includesenergy transfer between people.And one such transfer seems to be the willpower exhibitedby those assuming leadership in a given situation.

    • 11:36

      They seem to have a stronger will than other people.And by this, tilting resources and powerin favor of themselves, granting them a temporary rightto lead others.In my opinion, the very strong ideological overtonesare on the very ideal leadership,sometimes produce findings that are not always well-founded.

    • 11:58

      There are too many studies producing leadership conceptsthrough the science with inbuilt proof of leadership,carried out by researchers ideologicallyand also financially committed to the idea or leadership.I therefore argue that leadership is much more fragilethan the leadership industry and literature typically assumes.

    • 12:19

      In my view, leadership may be understood,as acts that leaders sometimes take or aspire to take.This seems to be acts that often are very difficult to carry outin everyday organizational life. [Finding-- the leadershipphenomenon is much more fragile, rareand subtle than the "leadership industry" and literaturetypically assumes]The material presented in this article pointsto such acts of leadership, but these actsare far more rare, subtle, and fragile

    • 12:42

      than frequently suggested by popular theories.So why do I think this paper was so highly read?Well, following up on the above, thereseems to be a mismatch between the idealized leadershipscenarios referred to in many theoriesand real life leaders everyday work situations.

    • 13:06

      In literature, and in training programs,leadership is often presented as an ordered and controllableactivity.But many, many of these models areof limited value in real life.Real leaders have to cope with divergent demands, complexity,and uncertainty on a daily basis.Many studies show that leadership very often

    • 13:28

      takes place in environments wherethere are a multitude of conflicting expectations.A leader's work is more likely to be characterizedby uncertainty, fragmentation, and a hectic pacethan by order and control.I therefore think this paper was read a lot because people cometo recognize themselves in some of the context, events,

    • 13:49

      and findings we describe.So where has this research lead me?It has lead me to explore two new lines of research.One is willpower and the second is the biology of leadership.In terms of willpower, I've publishedseveral papers and a book.I found that willpower may be developed and mobilized.

    • 14:14

      Willpower is psychological strengthand leaders may develop their willpowerby working with their mental strength.By doing this, most positively influence their abilityto exercise willpower in leadership situations.In terms of leadership biology, I'mjust in the middle of an ongoing research program.

    • 14:35

      What's clear for me today is that most leaders do nottransform people.They do not always create alignment,nor do they build the commitment, trust,and corporation as they're supposed to do.Accordingly, we are perhaps asking the wrong questionabout leadership.Maybe we today know enough about what constitutes

    • 14:56

      effective leadership.So thus the more interesting questionfor leadership research is given that weknow so much about effective leadership,why don't more leaders then lead effectively?[Willpower, leadership biology] I mean, the field of psychologyhas provided us with tons of explanations,as well as normative recommendations

    • 15:17

      and how to utilize leadership skills.But there seems to be barriers to effective leadershipexisting in modern organizations,and even more importantly, in every human being.So moving beyond [INAUDIBLE] leadership theory, researchersin the disciplines of psychology and biologyhave investigated the human processing, errors, biases,

    • 15:38

      and faults that prevent effective human interaction.One such bias is fluctuating hormone levels,and then therefore started to investigate if thishas an effect on leadership.So, how would I advise a student tasked with criticallyevaluating this article?What should you consider, think about closely?

    • 16:00

      I mean, can you study leadership by looking for followership?I think yes, you can.But this is for you to consider.I would also advise to think about the weaknesses mentionedpreviously in methodology and if this hasimpacted the findings somehow.But also at the same time to evaluate

    • 16:20

      if this loose design made the research projectand its findings possible.Also consider if contextual limitations makethe findings hard to generalize uponand export to other countries.And, after you consider this, my advicewould be to study the findings once more.

    • 16:41

      See if there are any learning pointsyou could benefit from, either when studying or doingleadership.So, thank you for listening.Enjoy the article.Hope you find it interesting.Good luck with your studies.

Studying Subtle Acts of Leadership

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Abstract

Professor Tom Karp discusses his research on leadership roles. His primary focus is demonstrating how leadership in practice differs from the idealized roles that are typically shown in academic literature.

Studying Subtle Acts of Leadership

Professor Tom Karp discusses his research on leadership roles. His primary focus is demonstrating how leadership in practice differs from the idealized roles that are typically shown in academic literature.

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