Bosses vs. Leaders LO5477
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 10:42:30 -0500

Replying to LO5385 --

Diane you ask about the distinction between a boss and a leader. In my
view the contrast is between someone invested with formal authority, which
has constraints, and their ability to exercise leadership. Exercising
leadership always puts formal authority at risk which is why it isn't
often done.

When anyone is given formal authority they have certain key social
functions to perform from the point of view of the members of the system:

1. Protect us from threats (protect our boundaries or borders)...
- from each other
- from the outside
2. Maintain the norms, strucutures and systems which guide our behaviors
and actions...
3. Control conflict...
4. Serve as a stable reference point which people can orient to in defining
their own role or place in the group...
5. Set the direction in the form of providing goals or answers to our

Formal authority works well in the realm of technical problems which:

* Operate within the organizations existing values and purposes (both
explicit and implicit), traditional communication channels and decision
making patterns...
* Assume our existing organizational structure, culture, processes and
systems are adequate in their present form for resolving problems...
* Are routine or have occured and been successfully resolved before...
* Are within the explicit authority of someone to solve...
* May be resolved by readily available resources...
* Can be solved quickly...
* And do not require leadership.

When the environment offers up a blizzard of changes which make existing
solutions ineffective, leadership, not authority is required. Leadership
is required when those in authority:

* Don't know where to go or how to find the solution...
* Where to make progress (no time to do it right and too much to do)...
* The problem may require a sustained period of disorder.

What does someone invested with authority do in turbulent environments to
exercise leadership?

They force a continuing inquiry about direction. Point out gaps between
aspirations and reality...
They allow threats to be felt in order to generate motivation to deal with it
early. They give cover to those who ask provocative questions...
They provide a regular meeting wherein conflict is encouraged, yet guided in
productive directions - debating the issues on both sides.
They seek to establish new norms, procedures and systems because the old ways
don't work so well anymore...
They point out inconsistencies and engage in facing the challenge...
They shift responsibility for the problem on to the people who have to live
with it and challenge people to grow.

Change is difficult. It usually means some kind of loss. Exercising
leadership means moving people through a period of loss. In my co-authored
article on this subject in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Quality
and Participation (for reprints 800-733-3310) we also discuss the
strategic questions someone wishing to exercise leadership would ask in
order to be able to assess the adaptive challenge they are facing before
taking action.

Steven Cabana, Director
Whole System Associates
P.O. Box 254 
Lincoln, MA. 01773
(508) 466-6884  Phone and fax

Helping organizations set direction and redesign themselves to get there.

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