In essence, successful leaders use stories with compelling messages to appeal to their followers. Based on this idea, Dr. Sternberg, with the assistance of Christopher Rate, created the following taxonomy of leadership stories:
- The Carpenter – the leader who can build a new organization or society
- The CEO – the leader who can “get things done”
- The Communicator – the leader who can communicate with diverse followers
- The Conqueror – the leader who is going to conquer all enemies
- The Conserver – the leader who will make sure things stay the wonderful way they are
- The Cook – the leader who has the recipe to improve the life of his or her followers
- The Deep Thinker – the leader who will make sense out of what is going on
- The Defender – the leader who will save all followers from harm
- The Deity – the leader who presents him or herself as savior
- The Diplomat – the leader who can get everyone to work together
- The Doctor – the leader who can cure what is wrong with the organization
- The Ethicist – the leader who pledges to clean up the place
- The Lifesaver – the leader who will rescue followers from otherwise certain death
- The Organizer -the leaders who can create order out of chaos
- The Plumber – the leader who can fix all the leaks
- The Politician – the leader who understands how “the system” works
- The Replicator – the leader who is going to be like some past individual
- The Scout – the leader who can lead followers to new and uncharted territory
- The Ship Captain – the captain of a ship navigating through turbulent times
- The Turn-Around Specialist – the leader who can turn around a failing organization
- The Warrior Chieftain – the leader who will lead followers to fight, defensively or offensively, enemies, seen or unseen
- Based on this taxonomy, which leadership story(s) best fit you? Would others in your organization agree with your assessment?
I hope Dr. Sternberg – or other leadership researchers – take the opportunity to further investigate and expand on this concept.
Sternberg, R.J. (2008). The WICS approach to leadership: Stories of leadership and the structures and processes that support them. The Leadership Quarterly, 19, 360-371.
Warren G. Bennis, noted leadership scholar and educator, passed away on July 31st at the age of 89.
I first read On Becoming a Leader in the early 2000s. To say it had a profound impact on my thinking about leadership, would be an understatement. From there I read Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, along with several magazine and journal articles dating back to the late 1950s. In 2011, I read his entertaining and thought-provoking autobiography Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.
While I never had the privilege of meeting the man, I was able to admire his wisdom and guidance from afar through his numerous publications. Many of his insightful passages have been added to my collection of leadership quotes (see here, here, and here for examples). His passing is a loss for the leadership community.
To learn more about his life and legacy, I would encourage you to read the following:
- Warren G. Bennis, Scholar on Leadership, Dies at 89 by Glenn Rifkin
- In Memoriam: Warren Bennis, 89 by Seth Stewart
- What is Warren Bennis’s Legacy? by James Heskett
“Leaders who trust their co-workers are, in turn, trusted by them. Trust, of course, cannot be acquired, but can only be given. Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms. Trust resides squarely between faith and doubt. The leader always has faith in himself, his abilities, his co-workers, and their mutual possibilities. But he also has sufficient doubt to question, challenge, probe, and thereby progress. In the same way, his co-workers must believe in him, themselves, and their combined strength, but they must feel sufficiently confident to question, challenge, probe, and test, too. Maintaining that vital balance between faith and doubt, preserving that mutual trust, is a primary task for any leader.” (Bennis, 1989, p. 140)
Bennis, W.G. (1989). On becoming a leader. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
Arguably one of Dr. Burns greatest contributions to the discipline is his 1978 book Leadership where he coined the terms transactional leadership and transformational leadership. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to do so.
One of my favorite quotes, which is still relevant today as it was more than 35 years ago, is:
“The crisis of leadership today is the mediocrity or irresponsibility of so many of the men and women in power, but leadership rarely rises to the full need for it. The fundamental crisis underlying mediocrity is intellectual. If we know all too much about our leaders, we know far too little about leadership. We fail to grasp the essence of leadership that is relevant to the modern age and hence we cannot agree on the standards by which to measure, recruit, and reject it. Is leadership simply innovation – cultural or political? Is it essentially inspiration? Mobilization of followers? Goal setting? Goal fulfillment? Is a leader the definer of values? Satisfier of needs? If leaders require followers, who leads whom from where to where, and why? How do leaders lead followers without being wholly lead by followers? Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” (pp. 1-2)
Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
“Of all the hazy and confounding areas in social psychology, leadership theory undoubtedly contends for top nomination. And, ironically, probably more has been written and less is known about leadership than about any other topic in the behavioral sciences. Always, it seems, the concept of leadership eludes us or turns up in another form to taunt us again with its slipperiness and complexity.” (Bennis, 1959, pp. 259-260)
Bennis, W.G. (1959). Leadership theory and administrative behavior: The problem of authority. Administrative Science Quarterly, 4, 259-201.
Organizational learning is vital to surviving (and thriving) in a rapidly changing business environment. Thus, business leaders should strive to create conditions that facilitate organizational learning. Yukl (2009) provides several examples of approaches leaders can undertake to encourage organizational learning, including (p. 50):
- Encourage people to question traditional methods and look for innovative new approaches that will be more effective.
- Articulate an inspiring vision to gain support for innovative changes from members of the organization.
- Encourage and facilitate the acquisition of skills needed for collective learning by individuals and teams.
- Strengthen values consistent with learning from experience and openness to new knowledge, thereby helping to create a learning culture in the organization.
- Help people develop shared mental models about cause-effect relationships and the determinants of performance for the team or organization.
- Encourage social networks that will facilitate knowledge sharing, collaborative development of creative ideas, and the acquisition of political support for innovations.
- Help people recognize when important learning has occurred and to understand the implications for the team or organization.
- Gain external support and financing for major initiatives involving the acquisition or application of new knowledge (e.g., acquisitions or joint ventures).
- Encourage experiments to gain more knowledge about the likely effects of changes before implementing them on a large scale in a way that cannot easily be aborted.
- Encourage teams to conduct after-activity reviews to identify effective and ineffective processes.
- Develop measures of collective learning and knowledge diffusion to assess how well it is accomplished and identify ways to improve it (learning how to learn).
- Encourage people to acknowledge when a new initiative is failing and should be aborted rather than continuing to waste resources on it.
- Create decentralized subunits with considerable authority to pursue learning and entrepreneurial activities in a responsible way.
- Develop, implement, and support programs and systems that will encourage and reward the discovery of new knowledge and its diffusion and application in the organization.
Yukl, G. (2009). Leading organizational learning: Reflections on theory and research. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 49-53.
“Today, the opportunities for leaders are boundless, but so are the challenges. Our best and brightest are as smart, innovative, and capable as any generation of leaders has ever been, but the route to the top is more arduous and trickier than it has ever been, and the top itself is more slippery and more treacherous than Everest ever was.” (Bennis, 1989, p. 25)
Bennis, W.G. (1989). On becoming a leader. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
“Most leadership today is an attempt to accomplish purposes through (or in spite of) large, intricately organized systems. There is no possibility that centralized authority can call all the shots in such systems, whether the system is a corporation or a nation. Individuals in all segments and at all levels must be prepared to exercise leaderlike initiative and responsibility, using their local knowledge to solve problems at their level. Vitality at middle and lower levels of leadership can produce greater vitality in the higher levels of leadership.” (Gardner, 1990, p. xiii)
Gardner, J.W. (1990). On leadership. New York: The Free Press.