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Lakehead University Magazine Fall/Winter 2007

Good Leadership: A Determination of the Will

Bryan Poulin shares his latest findings on leadership and succession

By Frances Harding

What makes an organization effective? This is a question that Bryan J. Poulin has been trying to answer since 1982 when he left the engineering consulting firm he established in Western Canada and decided to teach business strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Today, Poulin is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Lakehead, and for the past five years he has been Coordinator of Research and Professional Development for the Faculty.

In 2006-2007, Poulin co-wrote a paper with his colleagues Michael Z. Hackman and Carmen Barbarasa-Mihai that was published in the August 2007 issue of Leadership, an international, peer-reviewed journal published by Sage in the UK (http://lea.sagepub.com/
Their paper is entitled “Leadership and Succession: The Challenge to Succeed and the Vortex of Failure.” In it, the authors analyze data collected from manufacturing businesses in Canada, United States, and New Zealand, and draw conclusions about two broad leadership styles — that of the “socialized” leader and that of the “personalized” leader.

Socialized leaders are people who seek to make their own lives and the lives of others fairer and more workable, says Poulin, while personalized leaders look primarily to their own interest alone.

Poulin and his colleagues found that two patterns emerged among firms that were deemed by opinion leaders to be successful. First, socialized leadership relationships succeeded in transforming the firm by applying leadership and management principles to serve the needs of others, and enlisting support throughout and beyond the firm. Second, personalized leadership relationships promised much and either achieved narrowly defined success, or failed completely.

They write: “When socialized leaders are present at the CEO level, the other parts of the organization – identity, structure, and system – can be properly balanced in task and social orientation and the organization will likely stand for what it needs to be most about – equity, individual human dignity, and of course, valued products and services produced and supplied by productive people, efficiently and cost effectively.”

Balance is critical in understanding the difference between the two types of leaders, says Poulin, “Socialized leaders have regard for both themselves and other people at the same time, but when the pressure is on, they will side with the best interests of all. The personalized leader, on the other hand, loses that balance when the crunch comes.”

Of all the traits that effective business leaders exhibit – courage, experience, determination, vision, humility, and integrity – Bryan Poulin believes that integrity, humility, and determination are most important. “You have to make a determination of the will,” states Poulin, “and say: ‘I will be known as a person who looks out for others, not just myself, and effectively communicate this in word and action.'"

Even then, your effectiveness will not be fully known until time passes.

Michael Z. Hackman is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Carmen Barbarasa-Mihai is a consultant for the Government of Canada and was a member of Lakehead’s Faculty of Business Administration from August 2002 to January 2007.

Leadership Succession: Five Ways Businesses Can Fail

Despite many leadership successions and much experience, corporations fail to put in place effective CEOs consistently. The succession literature and the illustrative case studies together suggest the following five ways to fail, and possible remedies.

1 Deception

Appearances are deceiving. The incumbent CEO and Chair of the Board and other Board members can fall under the spell of a personalized leader with an ability to oversell.

Possible remedy: Check references carefully to determine if the person fits the profile of the personalized or socialized leader, including the exercise of how much or little he or she helps and trusts others, and shares in their successes.

2 Nepotism

One of the most frequent instances of malfunction relates to nepotism or cronyism.

Possible remedy: Be clear on what is looked for, and test on merit, not familiarity.

3 Homosocial Reproduction

This is the tendency of the current CEO and/or Board to choose someone who appears demographically or otherwise socially similar.

Possible remedy: Look to vision and competencies, and test for behaviors and psychological growth: how has the person learned to look out for him or herself, as well as others?

4 Invulnerability

A false sense of invulnerability occurs when past success is associated with an incumbent CEO. Even a strong and appropriate culture, built up over many decades, is vulnerable to decay and cultism.

Possible remedy: Be on the lookout for potential leadership talent within.

5 Seduction by Promise of Immediate or Short-term Gain

This temptation obviously plays to the decision makers' ignorance, insecurity, or both.

Possible remedy: Look out for the leader who plays to base motives and offers false hope, and distinguish between these selfish, personalized leaders and the humble yet determined leaders of integrity who offer real performance over the long-term.

- Excerpted from the article “Leadership and Succession: The Challenge to Succeed and the Vortex of Failure”
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