Lecture 1

Leadership of Organizations


Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.


It’s great to have you in class – I hope that this is a useful experience for you.  We’ll emphasize the practical, with the idea of using theoretical information in a way that will help you give you more tools to solve problems and get from Point A to Point B.


It is my personal view that it’s more important than ever to question all the “self-help” leadership books that present an overly rosy view of the organizations. 


“Pollyanna” leadership theories seem fairly irrelevant to the tasks at hand.  Why is that? 


I agree with Kets deVries.  Many popular leadership books overlook human nature, and the fact that people are not always rational.  The “rational man” of microeconomic (utility theory) is good when it comes to coming up with mathematical models to predict individual or group behavior.  However, we all know that life is not precisely like that.  There is a lot more ambiguity, randomness, and opportunity.  The positive side of that is that it gives us a great deal of room for creativity and innovative approaches.  Granted, that can be scary.  There are great advantages.


Kets de Vries’ books combine theories of organization (mechanistic and organic) with the reality of human behavior, which tends to be irrational, and deals with human emotions, the environment, and context.


You can apply his ideas to situations you have seen or experienced, and you can identify the various components of the situation in this way:


Components of Leadership Dilemmas

·                    Human emotions that are surfacing

·                    The environment (cultural, organizational)

·                    The context (history of what has happened before, values, beliefs, attitudes)


To further flesh out the puzzle, it’s important to keep in mind what really motivates individuals.  Many early theorists believed that human motivation revolved simply around the satisfaction of desire.  Later, Maslow developed his “hierarchy of needs” to further explain human motivation.  However, Kets de Vries refers to the latest theories, and suggests that human motivation is a combination of the following:


Motivational Needs of Individuals Within My Organization: 

·                    Physiological:  Are your team members tired, hungry, or cold?  These basic needs must be satisfied.  If they are not, keep in mind that this will influence how people respond to situations.

·                    Core reactive responses to situations (limbic system, “fight or flight”):  The Limbic system of the brain controls the release of adrenaline, and is considered to be the most “primitive” level of emotional functioning.  This is your “survival” brain, and it can be understood in terms of the “Four F’s”:  Fight, Flight, Fornicate, Feed.  Individuals who are stressed to the point of paranoia and hallucination, when studied, will often have elevated limbic system functioning.  It leads to extreme behavior.  If people in your team are stressed to the point of these primitive responses, extreme measures may be called for in order to “turn down the heat” and give individuals strategies for dealing with their over-the-top responses.

·                    Needs for attachment or affiliation:  People are social animals.  When individuals feel ostracized or not a part of the group, they start to exhibit negative behaviors.  However, many organizations fail in their attempt to make individuals feel a part of the group.  The forget that the following elements must be present:

o       Trust

o       Safety

o       Tolerance for individual difference

o       Commitment



Schadenfreude and the Team

schadenfreude \SHAHD-n-froy-duh\, noun:
A malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others.  Schadenfreude comes from the German, from Schaden, damage + Freude, joy. It is often capitalized, as it is in German.

How many times have you secretly gloated as someone you more or less consciously envied or resented suffered from public humiliation? 


Did you find yourself snickering to yourself as the coach yells at the person who yet again stumbles, looks foolish, and impacts the performance of the team?  Did you find yourself  laughing to yourself at a staff meeting as one of your coworkers (an annoying person who likes to hog attention and steal credit for projects), is cut off and publicly reprimanded by the vice president?


Perhaps you can justify your lower feelings by feeling superior:  “They got what they deserved!”  “Well, they were just stupid, and what do you expect from such idiocy!”


Afterwards, you meet with a few of your favorite coworkers and replay what happened, laughing at the one person’s pain or misfortune.  You use the negative “Schadenfreude” (malicious glee) to express the values you hold dear, and you think you’re bonding with each other by reinforcing your own superiority.


Are you really helping build up a team?  Is this, in fact, alliance building?


“Wipe that smile off your face, you snot-nosed wimp!” shouts the verbally abusive coach.  He noticed you were smiling sardonically as he went off on the overweight team member who keeps tripping and leading on the wrong foot. You don’t understand why he’s mad at YOU.  After all, you’re not the one who has messed up.  Right?  By snickering, you’re expressing your agreement with the coach!   


“Run two miles.  Now!”


You start running.  You don’t understand it.  What did you do wrong?


Let’s analyze this.  You snicker at the misfortune of your team-mate.  You’re angry with her because she slows down the process and your team can’t do the things you like to do.  When the coach yells at her, you laugh – partly because you are a bit angry with her, partly because you’re relieved it’s not you, and partly because you’re not comfortable with people who express their feelings, and you involuntarily laugh in response to the tension you feel.


More than anything, though, you feel a sense of superiority rise to the surface as you feel that certain malice, that cruel joy at the misfortunes of others that, in German, is called Schadenfreude.


What kind of team spirit is that????  What would you do in an emergency situation?  Would you be able to work with her, and would she be able to work with you?  You’ve separated yourself.  You’ve held yourself apart.  You think you’re better than she is.  She probably thinks the same about herself.  You’re letting petty personal feelings get in the way of the higher goal, the mission.  You’ve got to focus on the task.  Your role is to help, as much as you are humanly able.  The leader must recognize her strengths and develop them.  The leader must analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each of the team members and manage them as a whole.


A scenario:  You’re working with your team.  There is an emergency situation.  It is a large explosion.  There has been a release of toxic fumes, and there is the possibility of another explosion.  Either your building will collapse, or you will be trapped inside with toxic fumes.  If anyone is to get out alive, all of you have to work together as a team.  If you do not, all of you will die.  How are you going to work together, if all of you are feeling resentful of each other, or if you hold arrogant, superior attitudes toward some of the people of your team.  Toward others, you feel nervous and untrusting.  You know they think they’re better than you, and you resent it. 


If you haven’t worked on your individual self-seekingness, none of you will get out alive.


Now, before it’s too late, you have a chance to work on your own attitudes.  You can be rational.  You can attempt to help the person who is bringing down the group.  You can learn to see the task and overlook your petty attitudes. 


On the other hand, if that person refuses to perform and endangers the entire group, that’s another issue.  Leadership has the responsibility to make a decision.


In the meantime, the leader absolutely must not allow team members to indulge the lowest attributes of human nature.  The leader must break down those brittle walls of arrogance, self-seeking, superiority, paranoia, resentment. 


The methods that are used must be in accordance with the core values of the group and society.


Save Schadenfreude for art, for film, for gallows humor....  

                                                                                        what do you think??




Here are a few notes from Kets de Vries, which I found to be interesting as a starting point for this class:


Leaders must:

·                    motivate and inspire subordinates

·                    enable fellow workers to transcend prescribed roles in the organization

·                    instill the desire to exert extra effort to make the organization successful


Lessons from the Pygmies


What destroys teamwork?


·                    Conflict:  when conflict is left unresolved, hidden agendas take over

·                    Power hoarding:  occurs when control falls in small coalitions

·                    Status differences:  leads to hidden agendas, lower status person may be more interested in making a positive impression on senior team members than solving the problem

·                    Self-censorship:  members of the team who feel they are the odd member out may opt to keep their opinions to themselves.  Because silence is often misinterpreted as acquiescence, it leads to an illusion of unanimity.  Evenutally, opinions will be hidden.  “Mind guards” will start forming and putting themselves into place.

·                    Groupthink:  if dissent occurs, the dissenters are considered “obstructionist”


What builds teamwork?

·                    Members respect and trust each other

·                    Members protect and support each other

·                    Members engage in open dialogue and communication

·                    Members share a strong common goal (catalyst factor)

·                    Members have strong shared values and beliefs

·                    Members subordinate their own objectives to those of the team

·                    Members subscribe to “distributed” leadership


Keys to successful implementation of elements in team-building

·                    Give people room to play

·                    Keep the system open, and apply core beliefs to the larger system


I hope you find this helpful.  For your journal, you may apply some of the concepts you are exploring to a situation at hand, or one you have experienced in the past.