360 Degrees of Leadership

By:
Ford Burkhart, Jacob Chinn photo

Leadership once seemed so simple. “Lead me, follow me, or get out of the way,” said Gen. George S. Patton, leader of 725,000 troops in World War II. 

Today, it seems there are almost as many theories of leadership as there are leaders. By one estimate, 140,000 books for leaders are for sale on Google Books, and upwards of 400 million websites offer tips. 

Here at the UA, faculty members have come up with their own take on leadership.

Take Stephen Gilliland, professor of management and organizations. He’s the Arnold Lesk Distinguished Chair at the Eller College of Management, associate dean of executive education, and executive director of the Center for Leadership Ethics. He’s also the chief architect of a trend-setting MBA class on integrative leadership. 

The theory draws on integrative medicine, which unites mind, body, and spirit in treating patients. “We apply the same logic to leadership,” Gilliland says. “We want to advance the interests of the firm as well as its leader, its employees, and the community, broadly defined.”

One issue the class deals with is stress. Many leaders of organizations burn out from high stress, but managing stress isn’t given much attention by leadership researchers. In fact, no other university is offering this kind of class in integrative leadership, Gilliland says.

Eller’s class incorporates the notion of 360-degree feedback, which calls for input from all sides including the leader, peers and subordinates, even family and friends. The idea has made gains as the Internet has made data collection and analysis aimed at promoting a better balance of work and outside life faster and easier.

“The results can be a shock,” Gilliland says. Leadership students who thought they had balance in their work and personal lives discover their friends and family saying, “You are not doing such a good job.” The UA class trains students to spot the gap — and work on closing it. “They do some real soul searching on the role of the leader as a good family member,” Gilliland says.

Meanwhile, another UA expert considers leadership from a different angle. 

The role of leader can change from one person to another several times in a single conversation, says Patricia Sias, director of Eller’s McGuire Entrepreneurship Program and a faculty member in the department of communications. 

It’s all about skills in managing meaning, says Sias, who teaches leadership and organizational communication for students at Eller and across disciplines in science and engineering.

“Our experience of the social world is all created by communication, by the power of words and language,” she says. “How you say it matters.” If a leader frames a problem as a threat, for example, others will react defensively. If it’s presented as an opportunity, the workplace will be more proactive. 

Some would call it a more fluid, dynamic, and mutually engaged era of leadership. The shift began in the late 20th century when businesses moved from transactional leadership — “do this or get fired” — to transformational leadership — changing employees so they want to do what needs doing. When transformational leadership works, workers come to believe in the cause as “the right thing to do.” 

“It was a sexy idea in the late ’80s and ’90s,” says Nathan Podsakoff, associate professor of management and organizations at Eller. “We liked to think we could transform some aspects of the people who follow us.”

Podsakoff, who teaches an Eller MBA class called Leadership in a Complex World and also teaches in the UA Honors College’s Civic Leadership Academy, says UA alumni leaders should consider using carefully timed rewards, a powerful approach that can rapidly bring attitudes and behaviors of workers in line with those of the organization. “You praise in public when the desired behavior occurs,” Podsakoff says. 

Some executives tell him they think it’s not necessary for them to make the effort. “We pay these people to do these behaviors,” they say. They believe workers should behave as desired simply because it’s their job, not because the boss gives a pat on the back.

“You do this at your detriment,” Podsakoff tells them. In the American workforce, two-thirds of workers say they received no recognition or praise during an entire year of work. 

Well-timed praise, customized to each individual, is a signal to the rest of the group, Podsakoff says, making clear what it takes to be recognized. “It has a vicarious effect.” 

Monetary rewards also work, he adds, such as a bonus or incentive pay. But if you are a leader without extra resources, other kinds of rewards can go a long way in getting workers to perform at a higher level. Try a personal note to the employee who does a spectacular job, send a gift certificate, or get the VP to write them a note — or, better yet, drop by and shake hands. “It’s a rare commodity,” Podsakoff says. 

“And the important part is, there’s really nobody who can’t start doing this now,” he adds. “There’s nothing to stop you, and it builds your credibility as a leader.”