Learning Leadership: The Abuse of Power in Organizations
By Abraham Zaleznik
2006/03 - Beard Books
158798282X - Paperback - Reprint - 552 pp.
Case studies poignantly show the real lessons of leadership.
The somewhat novel approach taken in this book is to present narratives of business people and other key individuals within
organizations describing such matters as power, rivalry, and crises. The book is designed to enable the reader to learn the
art of leadership through the mistakes of others. This book will be instructive to those with a genuine interest in
acquiring or honing their leadership skills, as well as to others who are curious about real business and their leaders.
From Henry Berry, Turnarounds & Workouts, November 2006:
The lesson in Learning Leadership – The Abuse of Power in Organizations is to “use power so that substance leads process.” This is done, says the author, by keeping the “content of work at the center of communication.”
The premise of this intriguing book is that many managers, executives, and other business leaders allow “forms of communication [to become] the center of work.” As a result, misguided and counterproductive leadership and management practices have settled into many organizations. A culprit is the popular “how-to” leadership manuals that offer simple, superficial principles that only skim the surface of leadership. Zaleznik argues that the primary way to get work done is to put aside personal agendas and deal directly with those who are involved in the work.
With this emphasis on substance over process, the concept of leadership lies not in techniques, but personal qualities. The essential personal qualities of leadership are captured by the “three C’s” of competence, character, and compassion. The author then delves more deeply into each of these C’s. We learn, for example, that the three C’s are not learned skills. Competence entails “building one’s power base on talent.”
Character and compassion are the two other qualities of a leader that must be present before there is any talk about methods of operation, lines of communication, definition of goals, structure of a team, and the like. There is more to character that the common definition of the “quality of the person.” Character also embraces, says the author, the “code of ethics that prevents the corruption of power.” Compassion is defined as a “commitment to use power for the benefit of others, where greed has no place.”
This concept of a good leader is not idealized or unrealistic. It takes into account human nature and the troubling behavior of many leaders. Of course, any position of leadership brings with it temptations and the potential to abuse power. Effective leaders are those who “take responsibility for [their] own neurotic proclivities,” says the author. They do this out of a sense of the true purpose of leadership, which is communal benefit. The power holder will “avoid the treacheries of an unreasonable sense of guilt, while recognizing the omnipresence of unconscious motivation.”
Zaleznik’s definition of the essentials of leadership comes from his study of notable (and sometime notorious) leaders. Some tales are cautionary. The Fashion Shoe Company illustrates the problems that can occur when a leader allows action to overcome thought. The Brandon Corporation illustrates the opposite leadership failing — allowing thought to inhibit action. Taken together, the two examples suggest that balance is needed for good leadership. Andrew Carnegie exemplifies the struggle between charisma and guilt that affects some leaders. Frederick Winslow Taylor is seen by the author as an obsessed leader. From his behavior in the Sicilian campaign in World War II, General Patton is characterized as a leader who violated the code binding leaders and those they lead.
With his training in psychoanalysis and his experience in the business field, Zaleznik’s leadership dissections and discussions are instructive. The reader will find Learning Leadership – The Abuse of Power in Organizations to be an engaging text on the human qualities and frailties of leaders.
Abraham Zaleznik is emeritus Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School. He is also a certified psychoanalyst.
From Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California:
Zaleznik's contribution to the theory and practice of leadership is unique. He is singularly responsible for illuminating the darkness around the motivation and drives, conscious and unconscious, of those individauls who work in and lead our organizations. No one has done this more thoughtfully and richly than Zaleznik.
From Arnold Hiatt, Retired Chairman of the Stride Rite Corporation and Chairman of the StrideRite Foundation:
In Learning Leadership Professor Zaleznik argues that leaders are made and not born. His case studies poignantly show that
Abraham Zaleznik is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School. He is a 1947 graduate of the School’s MBA program and the holder of a doctorate in Commercial Sciences (1951) from that School, is known internationally for his research and teaching in the field of social psychology in the business setting, and for his investigations into the distinguishing characteristics of managers and leaders. Professor Zaleznik is also a psychoanalyst certified by the American Psychoanalytic Association. He has published fourteen books, and has written numerous award-winning articles.