Tag Archives: Leadership

Leadership Process

Leadership of the 20th century originates in a set of values, practices, and beliefs that are becoming less and less relevant to the new generation of workers and consumers (Rost & Barker, 2000; Hetzler & Speth, 2008). From a construct that was once focused on individual power and influence over others, leadership has been reconstructed as a process of interactions between interdependent individuals towards the achievement of goals (Rost & Barker, 2000). Leadership of the 21st century is informed by organizational systems theory, institutional theory, social complexity, and emergence to ground all individual activity over time within a system of interdependent elements bound by a common environment (Rost & Barker, 2000, Thoroughgood, Sawyer, Padilla, Lunsford, 2018; Aula & Siira, 2010; Vilas-Boas, Davel, Bispo, 2018), i.e. the organization. To understand the leadership process, it is helpful for owners, executives, and managers to understand their company as a recursive system of social complexity (Houchin & Maclean, 2005).

Gelfand, Leslie, Keller, & de Dreu (2012) found empirical evidence that supports the existence of three distinct conflict-cultures at the organization-level: collaborative, dominating, and avoidant. These three cultures positively related with the conflict management style of the manager. Collaborative conflict-cultures were seen with managers who cooperate with others to understand shared interests. Dominating conflict-cultures were seen with competitive leaders who use power to coerce others into supporting their position. Avoidant conflict-cultures were seen with leaders who sought to avoid any difficult conversation or situation altogether. They found a negative correlation between collaborative conflict-cultures and individual-level burnout, dominant conflict-cultures and organization-level cohesion, and avoidant conflict-cultures and group-level creativity. Subsequent analysis shows that job satisfaction ratings are impacted by these same conflict-cultures (Choi, 2019) that emerge from individual-level communicative interactions bound within an organization-level context.

From leadership process and communicative constitution perspectives, these findings uncover a need to have stable and structured conflict communication and resolution processes in place that follow a particular conflict-management ideal. If the goal is a collaborative conflict-culture, then leaders must be trained on cooperative conflict-communication and interest-based negotiation (Gelfand, Leslie, Keller, and De Dreu, 2012; Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011), and the company must be integrated along an organization-level conflict management system of collaboration that is obvious, available, and comfortable to use for every employee (Hetzler & Speth, 2008). Such a system is known as an Integrative Conflict Management System (ICMS), that actively and consistently works to guide the engagement and resolution of conflict throughout the organizational system at the earliest possible stage with or without formal or legal involvement (Spidr, 2001).

The emergence of culture can theoretically be influenced by a leadership process that involves owners, executives, and managers who not only understand how they and the organization are perceived by their followers, but also how they themselves perceive the organization and their followers. They must also actively engage themselves and others in a spontaneous arena to negotiate congruence of meaning between and within the levels of their company. It is also important for upper-management to understand the circumstances created by the way the work impacts the employees in order to anticipate and/or recognize areas of conflict before they get out of hand.

Conflict Culture Emergence

For example, if management expects the employees to be incompetent on the job, they may not recognize employee behaviors that would contradict this meaning, even when they are there. This structure supports a perception that could constrain management decisions and behavior toward overt domination, micro-managing, and/or impatience when interacting with these employees. Likewise, if the employees don’t feel valued by management, their decisions and behavior could be constrained toward apathy for being great at their jobs. If there is no shared spontaneous communication arena between the management and employee groups to negotiate the reality of these meanings, a reinforcing feedback loop might be created between the two groups that supports the two discursive-structures of domination and apathy. These structures could then dissipate unchecked within the groups until their scope of impact grows to affect organization-level functions through intergroup and interpersonal conflicts that reduce cooperation and effective communication. If these structures are transmitted to new hires as the reality of working there, then an individual/group-level discursive-structure with an organization-level scope of impact will likely embed itself as a belief about that organization, and even the most-qualified new-hires could appear, or learn to behave, as though they are incompetent.

All of these communicative interactions, discursive-structures, experiences, and shared meanings are interdependent elements, and they influence the emergence of an organization-level function known as culture. Culture represents the collective values and beliefs that individuals reference to understand what it means to be an employee of the company and what behavior is necessary to survive as a functional employee of the company (Schein, 2010). Being aware of this information helps ensure their survivability within that organizational system. Company culture reflects the reality of working for the company and guides individual behavior and learning within the company context. As an emergent phenomenon (Ikegami, 2000) no single individual can control culture. However, through the management of discursive-structures, the building blocks of culture might be influenced to guide the emergence of culture along desired ideals.

To manage discursive-structures, leaders could try attending to how they construct their own personal meaning about the people they work with, while also considering how their own communicative interactions with those people construct meaning about the organizational systems governing them all. Ample evidence suggests that employee perception of their work environment can create very real costs (or benefits) to the company (Kopaneva, 2015; Choi, 2019; Prasad & Prasad, 2000) that goe beyond the formation of counterproductive discursive-structures. Evidence also suggests that company culture is comprised of multiple, distinct subcultures and countercultures that individuals use collectively to understand different aspects of their work (Jermier, Slocum, Fry, & Gaines, 1991), and they too influence individual-level function. Katz & Flynn (2013) contend that a sub-culture can be formed around organization-level beliefs on how to engage and resolve conflict. If conflict is constructed as a disruptive behavior among individuals, individual behavior will likely lean toward a negative affect, causing a poor natural reaction to tensions, perceived differences, and escalated conflicts.