Leadership as a performing art
There is a quintessential coincidence between the concept of art and the concept of leadership, which makes the one evoke and suggest the other. This coincidence lies in the purposive expressiveness common to art and leadership. Leadership, defined or conceived from whatever perspective, cannot be divorced from the idea of a deliberate formulation and expression of thought, done with a view to manifesting what is presentable, beautiful and impressive. Hence leadership in itself being a continuous demonstration, presentation or “performance” of a conception (a thought), it can be viewed, without qualification, as a performing art.
This writing will attempt an exposition of this theoretical proposition. It will juxtapose its deductions with existing theories and models of leadership, confirming or refuting their assertions or implications, and thus introduce a new perspective on the concept of leadership, which should serve towards sanitizing existing stereotypes and, perhaps, help to broaden the general appreciation of the concept.
2.0. THE CONCEPT OF LEADERSHIP
The concept of leadership will be approached from an all-inclusive perspective, such that every viewpoint or conception of this concept founded on a connotative definition of “leadership”, will find some resonance with the resultant definition of the approach. The all-inclusiveness of this approach will conduce to the incontrovertibility this exposition wishes to establish.
To guarantee this comprehensiveness, the development will begin from fundamental dictionary definitions and progress to practical, empirical reality embracing or rejecting existing or authoritative conceptions.
From the Chambers Dictionary, 2003 edition, we have “lead” (fundamentally) defined as “to show the way; to precede; to guide by the hand; to direct; to conduct; to convey”. According to the Oxford Talking Dictionary, first definitions of “lead” include “cause to go along with oneself…; to accompany and show the way to (a person); esp. direct or guide by going on in advance.”. Compton’s Interactive Dictionary, 2000 edition defines “lead” as “to show the way to, or direct the course of, by going before or along with; conduct; guide, ….; to guide or cause to follow one by physical contact, holding the hand, pulling a rope, etc…”
These three sets of substantially concurrent definitions can be synthesized into one definition:
To promote and further towards a joint destination, through exemplariness, personal interest in the followership (“holding the hand”, “physical contact”), constant cognition and continual motivation.
Now, to existing (or authoritative) definitions:
David Blanchflower (2000) in his article Leadership refers to what “most managers would suggest” as attributes of leadership: “ the ability to make decisions [is]… one of the principal constituents, but equally possessing powers of motivation (even inspiring) will be cited. The skills of foresight and command are usually seen as requirements.”
Similarly, in his article on Motivation and Leadership Theories, Owston (1993) states “The leader to fulfil their role has to know how to motivate people and must seek ways to do this so as to maintain their role as leader.” Urwick (1957), too, supports the “command” attribute in his definition of leadership as the quality of behaviour in individuals by which others are drawn to accept their guidance.
These statements all ascribe to leadership the qualities of decisiveness, inspiringness, motivativeness, foresight and command.
David Blanch further writes:
“Bass (1959) in one of the most substantial works on leadership referred to 130 different definitions that defined leadership being in use prior to 1949. He then proffers as his definition of leadership: When the goal of A is that of changing another member B or when B’s change in behaviour will reward A or reinforces A’s behaviour, A’s efforts to obtain that goal is leadership.”
Here there is an ascription to a leader of a personal, rather than mere formal, interest in the followership. There is also the implication of a spontaneous compensation of the leadership in the success of the followership. What is, however, not specified and which contains a certain amount of ambiguity, is the specific nature or range of “A’s efforts”, which marks it as “leadership” for “B” (Certainly the efforts of an ignoramus or feeble-minded “A” would be worth very little consideration by a serious-minded “B” and would, consequently, impact little or no change in B’s behaviour).
At this point, a workable synthesis of the deductions from all these (dictionary and article) definitions can be made. Since from the fundamental dictionary definitions, “leadership” is an active quality, the verb in the following synthesis is advisedly in the progressive:
Leadership is the motivating, the inspiring, the promoting and the furthering of a followership towards a specific goal or sets of goals. A leader must therefore demonstrate exemplariness in the inflexible pursuit of the set goal(s), constant cognition of the needs and exigencies of their fulfillment, interest in the personal challenges of every follower respecting the pursuit, and an ability to command—not enforce— the followership’s respect, trust and obedience.
3.0. PERFORMING ART
Performing art is a public-performance artform which involves the use of the artist’s own body, face and presence as a medium of expression (Oxford Talking Dictionary 2003). “Public performance” here is not limited to live performances, but includes “film and videotaped presentations…” (Encarta 2005). It involves a successful presentation of certain artistic skills to a given audience to which the presentation is directed and adjusted. Examples of performing arts include drama, dancing, circus acts, puppetry, mime, singing and magic.
This writing will dwell on mime as a representative.
3.1. Mime: Mime is the conveyance of meaning to an audience through bodily movements, gestures and facial expressions, rather than through words (Compton’s). There are two main types—the literal and the abstract ( ibid). Literal-mime performances are more easily understandable than those of the abstract mime, which are meant to evoke thoughts and feelings. Literal mimes are usually humorous, with plots clearer and simpler than those of abstract mimes. Abstract mimes have, in fact, been described as “plotless” (Encarta); therefore, for a substantial appreciation of their meanings, initiative, great concentration, imaginativeness and deep thinking are called for.
Both types of mime can be performed in any of three styles: the Oriental, the Italian and the French styles (Compton’s).
“The Oriental style is very elaborate, employing wigs, detailed makeup, props, and music. Usually stock characters familiar to the audience are portrayed. Oriental mime also includes exciting gymnastic movements” (ibid).
The Italian style “seldom requires elaborate makeup or props, but it is recognizable from its big, broad style. Gestures are not so much realistic as exaggerated.” (ibid).
The French style often combines literal and abstract styles. “Costumes and makeup are simple: often white facial makeup and black or white clothing. The French style attempts to mimic human gestures realistically. This requires a delicate balance, strict concentration, and much study. ….” (ibid).
The following can be extracted or deduced from the above descriptions (the terminating parenthetical phrases are expressions of such characteristics in the extractions or deductions as are relevant to theme under consideration):
1. Mime has an inflexible rule—wordlessness (Fundamental methodology).
2. Its gestures always embody something practical and realistic that is overtly or covertly presented to the audience (Tactful and diplomatic instructiveness).
3. Mime allows for a wide range of realistic depictions, as in the literal styles, and for freak stylizations and intriguing combinations of styles, as in the Oriental and French styles (Versatility and poise).
4. The elaborate stage decorations, the engrossing dances and music, entertaining as they are, are all purposeful accompaniments to the meaningful gestures of the mimer (Purposeful conviviality).
5. Mimetic presentations can be quite extra-ordinary and larger than life, as in the Italian style (Strategic hyperbolism).
6. The appreciation of mimes requires as much from the minds and concentrations of the audience as it does from the skills and dexterity of the performer (Reciprocal self-application).
7. Mime is, therefore, a matter of talent and flair—not everyone can mime or has inclinations towards the mime art (Innate or cultivated element).
4.0. CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN LEADERSHIP AND PERFORMING ARTS:
The parenthetical insertions in the above seven sentences are some qualities fundamental and indispensable to leadership or to the leader-follower relationship, as defined in section 2.0. The current section will attempt a demonstration of this fact.
4.1. Fundamental Methodology: This is a matter of strict and irrevocable modus operandi, in terms of which all nominality is of no consequence Thus, while a person placed in a position of leadership always retains the relevant titles of his or her position, the person is in fact either a leader or a non-leader, depending on whether he or she keeps to the fundamental modus operandi of leadership. For this writing, the synthetic definition of section 2.0 will be used as fundamental modus operandi or fundamental methodology: Motivating, inspiring, promoting, and furthering through exemplariness, constant insight and foresight, interest in the personal the followership.
This methodology is to leadership of any kind as wordlessness is to mime of any style.
4.2. Tactful and diplomatic instructiveness: “Promoting and furthering” presupposes the ability to “carry along”. To carry followers along, the leader must be able to convey and implement his points and visions without wronging them or decisively hurting their sensitivities. Thus, the leader must learn to compare notes with his or her followers, invariably reckon with their consensus, and skillfully guide them to the realization of their errors in perception, decision or inclination.
This self-application is analogous to the mime’s intent sensitivity to his or her audience.
4.3. Versatility and dynamism: Tact and diplomacy call for constructive many-sidedness: severity and clemency; liberality and inexorability; humor and candor; theorization and implementation, etc. Besides, the ability to motivate, to promote and to further presupposes constant alertness and the readiness to recognize and to respond to challenges in any of a thousand and one possible ways.
4.4. Purposeful conviviality: The leader must be able to spice up his or her relationship of followers, with a good sense of humor, occasions for diversion, deliveries of inoffensive burlesques, etc—but deliberately in such a way that the purpose of their union is in no way compromised.
4.5. Strategic hyperbolism: In the leader’s deliveries, exaggerations will come in handy from time to time to bring home prominent points more tellingly—as does the physical manipulations and contortions of a mime to the audience.
4.6. Reciprocal self-application: Just as in the performance of mine, the performance of leadership will trigger responses of active participation from a conscientious (interested) followership. Followers will not merely listen to the leader uncritically, to mechanically obey and implement the leader’s recommendations, but the inspirational and motivational touch of the leader gets them involved in the realisation of set objectives— makes them cognizant of every course of action and of every step along every course, with a constant readiness to offer the leader constructive criticisms at every stage of execution. Such symbiosis will guarantee thoroughness, giving very little room for disgruntling and development of factions.
4.7. Innate and cultivated element: The ability to fulfill all the above six demands requires an element of inherent skills (plus their cultivation through test and experimentation). Not everyone has leadership traits and inclinations, or the urge to cultivate them—just as not everyone is a mimer, will become one or has to urge to take to mime (Otherwise there would, of course, be a ubiquity of mimers in the world).
5.0. CONTEMPORARY LEADERSHIP THEORIES
A juxtaposition of leadership viewed as a performing art and the contemporary theories and models of leadership reveals quite intelligible gaps and impracticalities in these paradigms. Four such theories will be considered to illustrate this fact: Behavioral, Trait Role, and Great Man theories.
5.1. Behavioral theory: There are two assumptions in this theory: one, that leadership can be learned and is not necessarily always innate; two, that leadership consists in “definable” and “learnable” behaviour (Behavioural Theory). (Both assumptions are not exact sequiturs, the second assumption partly denying the first by its excluding the possibility of the inherence of leadership to which the first alludes).
Further descriptions of this theory assert:
“Behavioral theories of leadership do not seek inborn traits or capabilities, rather they look at what leaders actually do.
“If success can be defined in terms of definable actions, then it should be relatively easy for people to act in the same way.
“This is easier to teach and learn then to adopt the mere ephemeral “traits” or “capabilities”.
“A behavioral theory is relatively easy to adopt as you simply assess both leadership success and the actions of leaders. With a large enough study, you can then correlate statistically significant behaviors with success. You can also identify behaviors which contribute to failure, thus adding a second layer of understanding.” (ibid).
Two vital questions arise from these assertions:
1. From whom did the very first human leader(s) learn their leadership?
2. If behavioral theories “look” at what leaders actually do, and “do not seek inborn
traits or capabilities”, what gives the theorists the inclination and proclivity to “look”
in this manner, such that they (not all and sundry) can subsequently recommend
and advocate their discovery of the learnability of leadership? (Certainly not
everyone can “look” in the manner of the Behavioral-theory theorists, otherwise
they would be no divergence in views about the development of leadership, but only
one universal assertion attesting to the unquestionable empiricism of the behavioral
theory, as to the fact of day and night, or hunger and thirst).
These questions contain a measure of incontrovertibility which points to the innateness of leadership, and suggests the fact that:
The tendency and ability to learn from—to “look” at— role-model leaders are indicative of a potential or potentiality for leadership in the learning one who, through studying and through instinctive identification with the role model, extracts stimulations for his or her own latencies. Consequently, it can be reasonably postulated that the first human leaders came inborn with their leadership talents and merely cultivated them through interchange and cross-fertilisation with fellow (born) leaders.
This suggestion contains some justification for the innate-or-cultivated element of the implication of section 4.0, which seeks to present the leader as a mimer.
5.2. Trait theory: This seems to conflict the behavioral theory substantially. There are three assumptions of this theory:
1. “People are born with inherited traits.
2. “Some traits are particularly suited to leadership.
3. “People who make good leaders have the right (or sufficient) combination of traits.” (Trait Theory).
Perhaps the above assumptions would be unquestionable if they did not seem to suggest an all-inclusiveness of the inherited traits, as though the fundamental abilities of leadership (motivativeness and inspiration, for instance) existed inherently perfect in the one born with the traits and would unfold this perfection with or without cross-fertilisation from those similarly endowed.
5.3. Great Man theory: This has two assumptions:
1. “Leaders are born and not made.
2. “Great leaders will arise when there is a great need.”(Great Man theory).
The first assumption found apparent justification from the status quo of the times when most great leaders arose from the aristocracy, few being from the lower classes. The second came from mythical developments which seemed to suggest that in times of great need, a great leader will arise, almost by magic (ibid). “This was easy to verify, by pointing to people such as Eisenhower and Churchill, let alone those further back along the timeline, even to Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and the Buddah.” (ibid).
The first assumption has been refuted in section 5.1. The second assumption, however, is an implicit negation of the fact that born leaders, who will naturally have varying degrees of leadership traits, can and should learn from one another. This fact naturally confutes the proposition of an epiphanic materialization of leaders in times of great need.
5.4. The Role Theory:
There are four assumptions of this theory:
1. “People define roles for themselves and others based on social learning and
2. “People form expectations about the roles that they and others will play.
3. “People subtly encourage others to act within the role expectations they have for
4. “People will act within the roles they adopt.” (Role Theory)
This theory derived the observation of people’s expectation of their leaders according to what they learn from reading, discussions and the like (ibid). People then subtly send these expectations to their leaders, who, if responsive and sensitive to his people, will abide by them, “playing the leadership role that is put upon them by others.” (ibid).
This kind of relationship between the leader and the led raises one or two questions:
If the led are rightfully role-specifiers of their leaders, do they not thereby make their leaders implementers of their expectations which may not be in their best interest?
Who is to assess and evaluate the worthiness or unworthiness of these expectations, and to decide whether to implement or to modify them?
Does the role theory not seem to favor a tendency towards chaos or factional dominance, since, according to the 4th assumption above, the led might adopt conflicting roles, or let the assignment of roles to the followers, fall to the lot of a faction or a clique within the larger group, while the “leader” sits and watches?
6.0. LEADERSHIP MODELS
The conception of leadership as a performing art throws some light on contemporary leadership models. Two of such models will be used for an illustration: The LPC (Least Preferred Co-worker) contingency model, and the directive model.
6.1. The LPC Contingency model: This model measures “how well the leader worked with the co-worker”— the quality of relationship between a leader and a follower— and assigns an LPC leader value based on the measurement (Leadership Models, 2005). Low leader LPC values suggest poor interpersonal relationship between leader and co-worker and a high degree of formality and task-oriented interactions; a high leader LPC value, however, suggests better interpersonal relationships.
The LPC measurement concurs with the necessity of “reciprocal self-application” and “purposeful conviviality” which was indicated in section 2.0.
Looking at the leader as a performing artist, as a mimer, one finds one deficiency in these LPC ratings: unilaterality. “Reciprocal self-application” calls for as much conscious an effort from the audience as is made by the mimer. Complaints from a spectator about not being entertained (analogous to poor LPC leader ratings) is not necessarily due to a failing on the part of the mimer: it might well lie in the shortcomings or fault of the spectator—lack of concentration, low appreciation of mimes (which, in the first place, disqualifies him from attending the show), and an unwillingness to make some effort to understand what is being conveyed, etc.
It behooves every co-worker to strive to understand his or her leader.
6.2. The directive model: This model places the leader at the “heart” of team he or she leads (Urwick, 2006). In other words, the welfare of each team member as well as the progress made by the team, depends entirely on the viability of the leader’s method. Here again, the compulsory symbiosis between the leader and led is omitted—the desiderative reciprocal self-application.
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