Our era is known in the intellectual circle as ‘the post-modern age.’ And the zeitgeist of this age has encompassed practically almost all–if not all–sectors of our life on this planet. The earth has ‘shrunk’ and we are literally living in a small world. From the primitive past of traveling ‘short’ distances in days–even months–through the ‘crudest’ means of transportation, we can now encircle the globe in hours. From the days of pony express in the U.S., surface mail, par avion, and telegram, even communication has come of age in this era of electronic mail (e-mail), ‘chatting,’ and teleconferencing through the magic of information technology (IT). The second wave civilization or the era of industrialism brought forth by the spirit of the age of modernism has not only ‘impersonalized’ society but likewise ‘depersonalized’ humanity through standardization and massification. But the paradigm shift from the modern age to the post-modern has brought human relations to the commanding heights of ‘ultra-personalization’ of society and ‘super-personalization’ of humanity. In the language of the social critic Marshall McLuhan of The Medium is the Message fame, ours is a ‘global village.’ This is the post-industrial era; the stage of humanity’s progress which the futuristic sociologist and philosopher Alvin Toffler (1990) calls ‘the third wave civilization.’
The Paradigm Shift
The spirit of this age has been seriously reckoned now as a strong influencing factor that enlivens and ‘reengineers’ structures, organizations, and processes in the political, civil, and corporate sectors of society. Old structures are being collapsed, different paradigms are introduced which according to the reengineering guru of the 21st century, Michael Hammer, is ‘the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical contemporary measures of performance’ (Hammer and Champy, 1993).
Six major fronts (Beatty and Burkholder, 1996) have been observed as actual events indicative of such a paradigm-shift in organizations:
1. Attention to the primacy of the constituency as the focus of service.
2. The drive to ‘reengineer’ processes.
3. More concise (or flatter) organizational structures and a widespread use of self-managed teams.
4. Cross functional integration of activities.
5. An altered relationship between ‘superiors’ and ‘subordinates.’
6. Greater emphasis on innovation.
This paper is an attempt to explore these events: discover the elan that animates these events and make known this elan in definitive and unequivocal terms. For present purposes, this paper generally focuses on organizations of the contemporary era as they are made to respond, adapt, invent, and innovate in the context of post-modern climate, conditions, and processes. Specifically, horizontalism in organizational leadership is the highlight and concentration of this paper’s discussion. Horizontalism in organizational relationship promotes a paradigm of leadership that aims to create, develop, and sustain flat organizational structures where there is proportionate or equitable sharing of management and administrative power.
Leadership Styles in Flux: Toward a Culture of Trust
‘Great leaders through out history have used a number of styles: personal bravery (Alexander the Great), fear (Attila the Hun), eloquence (Churchill), charisma (T.E. Lawrence), coalition building (Franklin Roosevelt), autocracy (Patton), and ideas (Martin Luther).’ (Beatty and Burkholder)
General George Patton, as a case in point, was a model of leadership considered among the most effective, successful and admired in the annals of world military exploits. Patton’s significance for our present purposes lies in the fact that he was not actually a born leader as there is very little evidence to back up the claim that true leadership is an inherent quality, rather than acquired through will and effort in the locus of experience. Certain accounts of this great general’s life inform us that Patton ‘transformed himself from being a soft-spoken, mild-mannered person, into the fiery dynamo whose name became legend among his troops and his opponents. While he may have lacked a winning personality, there is no denying his effectiveness as a military leader.’ (Beatty and Burkholder, p.48)
Patton’s autocratic flair used to be the dominant model of effective leadership in modern organizations. Such style of leadership aimed to direct people to accomplish what had been determined by such leadership as a necessary end to accomplish. It was configured in a setting where one individual issued orders while others were deemed to follow such orders. That was autocratic leadership: domineering, tenacious and unrelenting. Difference in view or opinion was construed as an affront to authority. Leadership of this category is preoccupied with the serious thought and effort of maintaining the distinct boundaries between superiors and subordinates. Contrary views, dissimilar opinions, departures from the rules and instances of clashing principles and agenda are looked upon as ominous challenges to the established order and to the authority of the powers that be. In technical terms, this type of leadership, which is of military origin and character, is called bureaucratic and hierarchical. The animating factor of this type of leadership is the spirit of fear and selfishness in a culture of suspicion.
Now, in the age of post-modernism, the paradigm shift has effected a redefined leadership role.
‘The role is changing from the old autocratic model based on fear to one proposed 2,500 years ago by Lao Tzu: “To lead the people, walk behind them.” Today, motivating factors other than fear must be taken into consideration. People’s need for competency, for recognition, for meaning and dignity have become overriding considerations. People today have enlarged capacity to be self-motivated. It is up to business leaders to develop and nurture this capacity for self-direction, creativity and talent in their work force. This model of leadership depends less on direction from the top than on providing a vision for others to follow, and on inspiring others to do their best in the pursuit of that vision. It is a leadership model that is more in keeping with non-hierarchical organizations of today than with the command and control organizations of the past.’ (Beatty and Burkholder)
This is horizontalism in leadership whose animating factor is a spirit of vitality and courage in a culture of trust. A leadership that perceives the need to empower its constituency to maximize and optimize the ‘capacity for self-direction, creativity and talent of [its] work force’ is operating within the confines of a culture of trust. A leadership cannot share ‘a caring, respectful, and responsible attitude’; cannot have ‘flexibility about people and organizational structure’; cannot utilize ‘a participative approach to management and the willingness to share power’ (Beatty and Burkholder) unless such leadership is shaped by the instrumentalities of a culture of trust.
In his insightful discussion on the issue of the changing styles of leadership, Harvard professor John Kotter observes in his powerful book A Force for Change: How leadership differs from management that exceptional leaders make it a point that an organization maintain a definite and meaningful path toward a desired end goal by facilitating the communication of a vision to all levels and sectors of the organization as an act of intensifying the people’s sense of meaning, responsibility and commitment. (Kotter in Gibson, ed., 1997) For a leadership to accomplish a Herculean task like this, it is deemed that the arena of its successful operationalization be permeated by the floodlights that can only emanate from a culture of trust.
The prominent leadership guru, Warren Bennis, comments that the communication of a vision requires more than words. He says:
‘It’s not a question of giving speeches, sending out memos, and hanging laminated plaques in offices. It’s about living the vision, day in day out–embodying it–and empowering every other person in the organization to implement and execute that vision in everything they do. In other words, you have to anchor it in organizational realities, so that it becomes a template for decision making. If ever there was truism, it’s that action speaks louder than words.’ (Bennis in Gibson, ed.)
Bennis goes on to say that another significant aspect of vision communication is generating trust:
‘Leadership will have to be candid in their communications and show that they care. They’ve got to be seen to be trustworthy human beings. That’s why I believe that most communication has to be done eyeball to eyeball, rather than in newsletters, on videos or via satellite broadcasts. The leader will have to be able to generate and sustain trust and that also means demonstrating competence and constancy.’ (Bennis in Gibson, ed.)
The logical source, therefore, from which the materials to construct a culture of trust in an organization is its very leadership.
Reengineering guru Michael Hammer defines a leader,
‘…not as someone who makes other people do what he or she wants, but as someone who makes them want what he or she wants. A leader doesn’t coerce people into change that they resist. A leader articulates a vision and persuades people that they want to become part of it, so that they willingly, even enthusiastically, accept the distress that accompanies its realization.’ (Hammer and Champy)
The realization of this view of leadership can only happen and thrive in a horizontal organization whose working principles of leadership are firmly grounded on a culture of trust.
The Dynamics of Leadership in a Culture of Trust
The essence of leadership in a culture of trust is a ‘principle-centered leadership.’ This type of leadership transcends the ‘human relations’ and ‘human resource’ model whose main concern is treating people well and then using them well. Principle-centered leadership goes beyond the said earlier model because it is more focused on the issue of facilitating people to find meaning and fulfillment in what they are doing. Inherent in this model is the objective to create an empowered work force motivated by a shared sense of meaning and vision within the confines of a value system that is grounded on principles.
In the era of post-modern realities, efficiency and effectiveness, or productivity and creativity cannot simply be realized if the leadership paradigm is not located, nurtured, and enhanced in a culture of trust. It is this very culture that fosters trustworthiness throughout the organization. And trust can only emanate from principles.
The principles which are the focal point of this leadership model are actually the basic universal principles useful and time-tested in all human relationships and organizations; the likes of justice and fairness, honesty and integrity, trustworthiness and impeccability. These principles operate like natural laws, i.e., whether we obey them or not. They are principles with which no one dares argue. Humanity’s sense and understanding of them is universal.
The leadership and human relations authority, Stephen Covey comments:
‘The great value of a high-trust culture is that it brings together idealism and pragmatism. It becomes the basis for both empowerment and quality. How are you going to get people empowered if you don’t have high trust? When there’s low trust you’ve got to use control. You can’t empower people in a culture like that, otherwise you’ll have loose cannons all over the place… They don’t have a common vision and a common set of values based on principles that they all buy into. You also won’t get quality, because quality requires that everyone up and down the entire process has quality in their heart and in their mind. They have to really believe that “quality begins with me,” and they need to make their decisions based on the right principles and values. So empowerment and quality are totally integrated in a high-trust culture. Trustworthiness precedes trust which precedes empowerment which precedes quality.’ (Covey in Gibson, ed.)
The paradigm shift discussed in this paper requires enormous patience for its process has to work from inside out. Post-modern horizontal organization leadership generates change right in the hearts and minds of people. The culture of trust which provides the right climate for the leadership to grow is likewise enhanced by the dynamics of that very type of leadership. Besides, it is important for us to be constantly reminded that even a principle-centered leadership is brought to its realization through the recognition of a trusting people who have entrusted the well-being of their organization, their society, to such leadership. Post-modern horizontal organization leadership in a culture of trust is in itself a trust which is sacred and has to be protected and faithfully observed.
Beatty, Richard H. and Nicholas C. Burkholder. The Executive Career Guide MBAs: Inside Advice on Getting to the Top from Today’s Business Leaders. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1996.
Gibson, Rowan (ed.). Rethinking the Future. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 1997.
Hammer, Michael and James Champy. Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 1993.
Toffler, Alvin. The Third Wave. New York. Bantam Books. 1990.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa