How to manage the unmanageable – or how leaders can tap into the self-organized communities in their organizations

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Benjamin Schulte, Florian Andresen, and Hans Koller of Helmut-Schmidt-University–University of the Federal Armed Forces. They recently published an article in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies entitled “Exploring the Embeddedness of an Informal Community of Practice Within a Formal Organizational Context: A Case Study in the German Military,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they recount the motivations and innovations of this research.]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

Right from the outset of our research project on communities of practice (CoPs) within the German Federal Armed Forces, the question of how self-organizing communities interrelate and coexist with the hierarchy of a military organization caught our attention.

Armed forces, in general, face numerous challenges such as rapid technological advancements and emerging threats such as cyber warfare to which they need to adapt their internal processes and resources quickly. Thus they – much like contemporary business organizations – are compelled to become more adaptive to an ever more complex and unpredictable environment. The armed forces, however, remain mostly structured around bureaucratic principles with an emphasis on standardization, alignment, and control, which usually result in tendencies towards organizational inertia.

Embedding communities of practice in such an organizational setting thus creates a complex situation. CoPs, on the one hand, drive local innovation, whereas the formal organizational hierarchy ensures overall stability and efficiency. Moreover, communities require autonomy to break away from existant paths but simultaneously need to be coupled to the formal system as otherwise, they might produce local change at the expense of overall organizational fragmentation.

Given this, the armed forces offered us an unique research setting to explore how (military) leaders navigate this tension between self-organizing CoPs and formal systems and embed these two contradictory elements for organizational adaptability.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research

Given that CoPs are part of the informal organization, and therefore, organic they do not appear on organization charts and are often unknown to upper echelon managers. Besides this, we decided to explore our research questions inductively employing qualitative methods. In light of this, a significant challenge was to discover interesting empirical cases for our study in the first place. Hence we had to work our way through the hierarchy down to the frontlines until we found fruitful areas to research. Yet, our efforts were rewarded as we received hints towards several community-like structures evolving at the organizational outskirts, one of which we investigated in detail for the study at hand.

Were there any surprising findings?

During our investigations, we did not only found various leadership practices that together enabled and embedded the community dynamics, but we also discovered that the observed CoP was able to generate new resources, which allow the organization to better resonate with environmental changes.

What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

Based on our empirical findings obtained from the armed forces we developed a grounded model about how leadership works at the interface between CoP and formal system. In explaining this model we draw and build on the thoughts from Mary Uhl-Bien about complexity leadership theory. Thus, one could say that Uhl-Bien and Arena’s 2018 article “Leadership for organizational adaptability: A theoretical synthesis and integrative framework” profoundly influenced our thinking about leadership in complex organizations.

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Creative Leadership Within the Cyber asset Market: An Interview With Dame Inga Beale

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Amit Mitra and Nicholas O’Regan of the University of the West of England. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Creative Leadership Within the Cyber asset Market: An Interview With Dame Inga Beale” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the motivations and challenges of their research:]


What motivated you to pursue this research?

As the world is becoming more reliant on digital technologies, the nature of risk is changing. Traditional insurers need new metrics and new ways to assess risk as organisations today are gradually converting their physical assets into their digital equivalents. So, within such a changing scenario, I was encouraged by Inga Beale’s conscious attempt at developing a novel approach to estimating risk. In an industry where technology is pervasive, preserving the social purpose in a technology led organisation like Lloyds of London seemed hitherto unknown. While issues like climate change, urbanisation, and online vulnerabilities seem unconnected yet if leaders like Inga are able to visualise a bigger picture, that factors in some of the abiding anxieties of groups in society that are looking for insurance cover, then Lloyds would be better at catering to these client expectations. My interest has been motivated by this ‘social purpose’ of technology articulated by Inga Beale. Second, an inclusive inter-connected visualisation of contributing factors of risk and its global ramifications is also another facet that has encouraged my interest in this research.

Were there any specific external events – political, social, or economic – that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

Frequency of cyber-attacks and how such attacks impact on populations that are reliant on digital assets is a key driver that encouraged my overall curiosity to pursue this research. Inga Beale mentioned the consequences of severe attacks such that 12.4million people could lose their jobs in the United States alone if cloud assets were attacked. So, the cost of risk that is embedded in loss of digital assets far exceeds physical assets like building infrastructure. Given the frequency of cyber-attacks on digital assets held by organisations that has led to the compromise of customer confidence and damaging financial losses, I was not sure that traditional ways of using technology to deal with technology risk could lead to an abiding solution.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

The focus of the research being creative leadership in the cyber asset market it was difficult to find parallels of similar leadership styles within extant literature. In many ways the type of leadership of Dame Inga Beale was unique in context, process and content. Contextually the insurance market is different from traditional businesses being fraught with risk and a surfeit of different kinds of estimation. Processes are also unique as the asset structure of companies have been changing significantly from physical to knowledge or digital assets. Content of this leadership style was punctuated by an inclusive paradigm of locating risk as enunciated in society’s existential anxieties. So, evaluating this peerless nature of the leadership style was a challenging undertaking.

Creative and innovative leadership has traditionally focused on man management, financial nous, implementation of new technology, and the like. Finding a social purpose of implementing technology as propounded by Dame Inga Beale was indeed a surprising finding. h

As part of a larger project in which we have been examining a range of issues around age and work, we were keen to explore a particular label (the Weary) that we observed in our data (online media texts). Weary was an acronym standing for ‘Working Entrepreneurial and Active Retirees’. It appeared in an insurance company report and was said to refer to those too old to get paid jobs, too poor to retire and therefore needing to earn money through entrepreneurial activity.

The label was immediately intriguing to us because of the inherent tensions it represented. The acronym has negative connotations in a way that the full title arguably does not. Also the title juxtaposes two traditionally mutually exclusive identities: working and retired, and introduces a third, the potentially problematic neoliberal identity of entrepreneur.

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Dynamics of Power, Obedience, and Resistance in a Classroom Restructure

[We’re pleased to welcome author Todd Bridgman of Victoria University of Wellington. Dr. Bridgman recently published an article in the Management Teaching Review entitled “Overcoming Compliance to Change: Dynamics of Power, Obedience, and Resistance in a Classroom Restructure,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Bridgman discusses the genesis of this research.]

The idea for this paper came from my experiences teaching change management to undergraduates as well as graduates. In my change management classes we examine topics like ‘resistance to change’ from both mainstream and critical perspectives. Within the mainstream, resistance by employees is often portrayed as an inevitable and undesirable response to planned change that managers must attempt to overcome. Critical perspectives, in contrast, are more likely to see resistance as positive, by prompting deeper analysis of a change, or by preventing an ill-advised or unethical one. It is recognised, however, that it might be difficult for employees to voice their concerns about change, especially if implemented from the top down, because of the power relationships involved. Therefore, we should encourage students to think about how to overcome compliance to change and not just how to overcome resistance to change.

Over time I found my MBA students could relate easily to both perspectives. Most are mid-career and have experienced multiple organizational restructures. Often they viewed these structural reorganizations as change for change’s sake by new managers seeking to make their mark on the organization and demonstrate their capabilities as leaders of change. In contrast, the undergraduates, with their limited work experience, were much more likely to accept without question the mainstream assumption that change is good and resistance is bad. After all, they have spent most of their lives in educational institutions where obedience to authority figures is encouraged, rewarded and valued.

To address this, I created a classroom activity that simulates an organizational restructure, requiring students to reorganize themselves around the room multiple times on the order of the instructor. I ask them to change their seating position in the room and once they have complied I ask them to change again. And I keeping moving them until they refuse.

The paper gives instructions for running the activity and a list of questions that can be used to debrief the exercise with students, together with their likely responses. The debrief gets them to reflect on their compliance and resistance, group dynamics that influenced their behavior and the ethical issues raised. It concludes with a discussion on how organisations can foster cultures that encourage employees to speak up.

I’ve used this activity successfully for more than 10 years and have received positive feedback on it from students. So I decided to write the paper to share my experience with other management educators.

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How Do You Stop a Patient From Falling Again?

doctor-with-tablet-1461913089jcx.jpg[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Joseph Allen of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Dr. Roni Reiter-Palmon of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Dr. Victoria Kennel of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Dr. Katherine Jones of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. They recently published an article in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies entitled “Group and Organizational Safety Norms Set the Stage for Good Post-Fall Huddles,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Allen recounts the motivations and innovations of this research.

JLOS_72ppiRGB_powerpointThe research in this paper was motivated by both personal interest and practical need in the healthcare field. Specifically, many of the researchers have had families or witnessed themselves instances where patients fell, were injured, and their recovery was impacted by that fall. Further, there is a general and practical need in healthcare to attend to and reduce the frequency of falls at in-patient facilities. As the population ages, the demand upon healthcare facilities only grows, and so the reduction of process of care created injury or illness is essential to providing care to everyone in need. That is, we need to get people in, treat them effectively, and help them transition back to full functioning without lengthening their stay with needless falls or other injuries/issues.

Given that motivation, the research here is particularly meaningful and innovative because it highlights an interesting dilemma in the implementation of best practices for improved patient well-being and care. Specifically, this study showed that having a good organizational safety climate/culture makes it more likely leaders will engage in the desired behaviors and lead effective post-fall huddles, compared to leaders in less positive organizational safety climate/culture. In other words, those who are already aware of the need to do things to keep patient and employee safe as they work together will more readily adopt new and innovative practices to promote that safety. This study supports the need to “set the stage” before implementing new things related to safety.

Additionally, it tells a somewhat scary truth about safety intervention implementation. Organizations who already buy into, support, and foster safety related practices are more effective and probably more likely to succeed at implementing new interventions. Organizations who do not buy into, support, and foster safety related practices do not benefit as much from attempting to implement new and innovative interventions. In other words, the safe get safer and the unsafe may not get much safer over time.

Bottom-line, stay healthy and be judicious in your decisions about where to receive your healthcare.

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Doctor Photo attributed to Free-Photos (CC)

Appreciating the Soul: Reflecting on Leadership

2017-10-19 10_30_31-1056492617710758.pngWe are pleased to feature authors Nancy J. Adler and Andre Delbecq and their innovative article on leadership. Recently Drs. Adler and Delbecq published an article titled “Twenty-First Century Leadership: A Return to Beauty” in the Journal of Management Inquiry. In their article, Adler and Delbecq take the unique approach of combining beautiful artwork with profound writing that invites readers to reflect on themselves and their aspirations for leadership. The article is free to read for a limited amount of time. Read the abstract below:

Adler portraitHighlighting Aristotle’s appreciation that “The soul . . . never thinks without a picture,” this article weaves together art and ideas into an aesthetic encounter with beauty, leadership, and our humanity. It invites reflection based on long-established wisdom traditions as well as drawing on insights from everyday sacred traditions. You are invited not only to engage in reading the words presented on each page but also to stop and to reflect on their meaning. You are offered the power of art to intensify your experience and understanding. The article invites you to enter into a contemplative silence designed to increase your appreciation of your own and others’ humanity while deepening the beauty of your own leadership. Such encounters with art and deep reflection have the power to guide us in rediscovering and creating beauty in our fractured world. Encountering art and wisdom through a deeply reflective process does not dismiss science but, rather, partners with all ways of knowing to go beyond what any one approach can produce on its own. Thus, the overall invitation of the article is to heighten your understanding of yourself, your role, and your aspirations as a 21st-century leader.

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Navigating the Study of Executive Leaders’ Spirituality

[Wejmia_26_1-cover’re pleased to welcome Dr. Stuart Allen, Associate Professor at Robert Morris University in Organizational Leadership. Allen recently published an article in Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Navigating the Study of Executive Leaders’ Spirituality: André Delbecq’s Journey.” From Allen:]

We first began to communicate with André Delbecq in 2014. After reading his articles and hearing him speak at conferences we were eager to include him in an instructional video we were working on that addressed the role of spirituality in leadership and the workplace. André invited us to visit him at his home in San Francisco in early 2015 to video-record an hour long discussion. André is a renowned figure in the Academy of Management, and especially in the Management Spirituality and Religion (MSR) Interest Group, due to his long history of contributions to the management field (over 225 scholarly articles) and his pioneering work on topics such as the Nominal Group Technique. In his late career, in the late 1990s, André began to focus on executive leadership spirituality, publishing various accounts of his approach in delivering seminars on this topic to his graduate management students at Santa Clara University, where he served as senior fellow in the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education and professor of management in the Leavey School of Business.

In the months following the interview, while editing the video footage, we realized that we had much more content than we could include in our initial video; we also recognized the depth of André’s rich experience and warm approach in sharing his experiences and perspective. After seeing an article about Fred Luthans (Sommer, 2006) in the unique Meet the Person format included in the Journal of Management Inquiry (JMI), we contacted André and JMI’s editors to gauge interest in an article in this format about André. In August 2016 we met with André for a second interview at the Academy of Management’s 2016 Annual Conference in Anaheim and spent another 90 minutes with André. He elaborated on some of the earlier issues we had explored with him while adding a great focus on his career and experiences as a pioneering teaching practitioner and author. By this time, we had come to know André better, and later that same morning we presented a panel with him and Jody Fry.

Wanting to see the interviews published, we finished the manuscript in September 2016 and sent it to André for his review and approval. He responded on October 1 letting us know that we could publish the article, but also letting us know he was experiencing some health challenges and would be heading to hospital. Twelve days later we heard of André’s passing. This was a challenging end to the beginning of great friendship as we were just getting to know André at a new level. We were also awed by his generosity and commitment to scholarship through the detailed comments we received in his review, even when he was ill and about to go to the hospital.

This article reports on the two interviews, providing a broader picture of André’s career and experiences as a pioneering scholar and teacher. André also shared some of his thinking about the current state of the MSR field and opportunities for new research. He has shared his thoughts on how to approach the challenges of researching new topics and the rewards he received for doing so. It is hard to communicate the full essence of the experience of working with André, who was a wise, patient, generous, bold, and joyful person to be with. He exemplified the transformative presence of a great leader and scholar. We were honored with the opportunity to capture his thoughts and experiences at what unexpectedly turned out to be the end of his life. Anyone who knew André, is interested in MSR research, teaching, and scholarship, or those seeking to learn from the example of pioneering scholar might enjoy reading the interview.


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Learning to Lead: A Comparison of Women’s and General Leadership Development Programs

6109345368_004befc070_z[We’re pleased to welcome Keimei Sugiyama of Case Western Reserve University. Keimei recently published an article in Journal of Management Education with co-authors Kevin V. Cavanagh, Chantal van Esch, Diana Bilimoria, and Cara Brown entitled “Inclusive Leadership Development: Drawing from Pedagogies of Women’s and General Leadership Development Programs.” From Keimei:]

The importance of leadership development training focused on women has been well understood given the challenges of overcoming gender biases, stereotypes and unwritten rules that affect women in their leadership identity transition.  Yet there have also been shifts in how we think about the important qualities of leaders such that general programs include enhancing competence in self-awareness and emotional and social skills, making the work of leadership not just about meeting business demands but also about meeting the interpersonal needs of an increasingly globalized and diverse workforce.  If this is the case, then does there continue to be a need for women-focused programs or has our very understanding of leadership shifted enough to include women?

In this context, we were inspired to compare general and women’s leadership development programs in order to explore the following questions:

  • Are general and women’s leadership development programs becoming more similar or do they remain distinct in assumptions of what “leadership” is?
  • How do these assumptions affect how relating to others is addressed in developing as a leader?
  • How do these assumptions address the leadership identity transition of understanding both self and others to develop leadership capabilities?

What we found was that although General Leadership Development Programs JME(GLDPs) and Women’s Leadership Development Program (WLDPs) shared similar themes of leadership development, there was a stark contrast in what each type of program emphasized.  GLDPs were more likely to reflect assumptions of a leader as an independent self, separate from others, and manifested in more agentic and transactional leadership approaches.  WLDPs were more likely to reflect assumptions of a leader as a relational self, learning through connecting with others, and approaching the transition to leadership as relational and identity-based.  Given these contrasts and the challenges that continue to face women in the transition to leadership, we concluded that WLDPs do continue to offer significant value in supporting the advancement of women in leadership.

What surprised us in this study is that despite acknowledgement of the global context of the increasingly diverse workforce, both types of programs in their descriptions did not directly highlight how leadership involves being inclusive of multiple diverse identities and intersectionality (e.g., being a woman of color). We suggest that highlighting the importance of inclusive leadership that both values uniqueness and creates belonging for diverse multiple identities is important for any leadership development program.

We also developed a model that integrates pedagogies implicit in both types of programs to suggest a framework for inclusive leadership development. We anticipate that this framework will be helpful in better balancing and promoting more inclusive approaches to leadership in both types of programs. We also hope that this model helps to expand the research on inclusive leadership and informs new pathways for leaders to be developed in ways that value and enhance all their meaningful identities.

The abstract for the paper:

Trends in extant literature suggest that more relational and identity-based leadership approaches are necessary for leadership that can harness the benefits of the diverse and globalized workforces of today and the future. In this study, we compared general leadership development programs (GLDPs) and women’s leadership development programs (WLDPs) to understand to what extent program descriptions addressed inclusive leadership—leadership that draws on relational skills to value both the uniqueness and belonging needs of diverse identities to create business effectiveness for the long term. GLDPs predominantly reflected pedagogical assumptions of separate knowing, development of the autonomous self, and masculine leadership approaches of agentic and transactional leadership. In contrast, pedagogical assumptions of connected knowing, development of the relational self, and relational and identity-based leadership approaches were more prevalent in WLDPs. These findings suggest that WLDPs continue to offer significant value to supporting women leaders in their advancement, yet both WLDPs and GLDPs can do more to be inclusive of additional diverse identities to better develop leaders of the future who can lead with inclusive behaviors. We suggest a pedagogical framework for inclusive leadership development that may better balance and promote synergies between achieving business priorities and relating to others and their diverse identities.

You can read “Inclusive Leadership Development: Drawing from Pedagogies of Women’s and General Leadership Development Programs” from Journal of Management Education free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to be the first to know about the latest research published by Journal of Management EducationClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Image attributed to aiesecgermany (CC)